My eldest son recently lost his very first baby tooth. The tooth fairy had luckily been anticipating a visit to our house in theory, but he didn’t give her a ton of notice when it came time for the actual event. The tooth was loose and gone within the same day. My son nearly broke the sound barrier getting ready for bed that evening eager to see whether or not the tooth fairy would come.
The following day, he reached under his pillow and pulled out a shiny quarter. He gave us all a great big gap toothed smile and immediately placed the coin in his bank. He then proceeded to call my attention to the gap repeatedly and made sure that all his friends at day care were equally informed. By his estimation there could be no more solid proof that he truly was a big kid now.
I informed my extended family and co-workers about this new development only to learn that the tooth fairy had gotten off incredibly cheap at our house. Apparently inflation affects more than just the cost of a gallon of milk. In case you are curious, I’ve since learned that the going rate for a child’s tooth is actually a dollar or more on average. Five dollars were commonly cited as the going rate for a first tooth or larger tooth such as a molar.
My son was excited to receive his quarter. He’d never asked the tooth fairy up front how much she thought his tooth would be worth and was thrilled to receive his quarter. All he had expected was a coin and a coin is what he received. But I was worried.
When my son is excited about something, he likes to tell everyone who will listen all about it. There was a very real risk that he would talk to an older child at the playground about the receipt of his quarter and learn that the other child received more. If that happened, would his joy suddenly be turned into shame? Would he wonder to himself things like why didn’t he receive more? Why wasn’t the tooth fairy just as generous with him? Was there something wrong with his teeth? Was there something wrong with him?
We as a society frequently confuse our sense of self-worth with our financial worth. However if you were to ask most business owners, they would tell you that money is actually one of the worst ways to incentivize your staff. Monetary bonuses tend to provide little positive long-term impact on employee behavior and actually typically result in the exact opposite of their intent.
People become increasingly dissatisfied doing their regular work and company culture can take on a climate of unhealthy internal competition. Studies have shown that companies which pay a fair wage and offer other benefits designed around the values of the employees are more productive than companies which offer bare bones salaries with astronomical bonus potential.
I have begun reading a number of studies on a concept called the prosocial bonus. The concept is somewhat simple. Rather than cut a check to an employee in reward for the job they should be doing anyway, the employee gets to redirect where the bonus should be applied provided it goes to somewhere other than themselves. The important thing is that the employee must be in the driver’s seat. An employee might request that money be spent on a cause of their choice or on their teammates. They get to feel empowered.
Companies who have experimented with the concept reported that employees had a greater sense of self-worth even though there wasn’t an adjustment to their financial worth. This in turn created a culture of increased morale and teamwork.
I am intrigued by this concept, but the system only works if a person is first paid fair wages. Luckily for us, upon examination of the quarter we found it still had residual fairy dust. My five and a half-year old only had to behave himself all day, make a wish while holding the quarter near his tooth gap, and place it in a cup of water for the magic of the first lost tooth to work. The quarter grew overnight into a silver dollar. He may have just gotten his first lesson in investment as he had to move his money into a different vessel and do a little extra homework for it to grow.
Thankfully we managed to avoid an awkward discussion about disparity. While a little change might do him some good, at this point in his life, I am sure he would tell me a lot of change would do him even better.