I learned a new term today: “Coffee Badging”. This is when a company has mandated that people be in the office, so they travel in to the office, swipe their badges, grab a coffee and perhaps talk to someone, and then head home again, where they remain for the rest of their working day.

In psychology, what we are describing is the outcome of a perverse incentive.

“A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result that is contrary to the intentions of its designers.”

Probably the most widely cited perverse incentive is the so-called cobra effect where a bounty on cobras in India resulted in people starting to breed the cobras to maximize their payouts. When the bounty was finally scrapped, the breeders then released all the remaining cobras, leaving far more snakes in the wild than had previously been there.

Another that seems to pop up every couple of years is where volunteer fire fighters are found to have started fires, that they could then get paid to put out. It seems ridiculous that a fire fighter would deliberately start a fire and yet when the incentives are set up in such a way that they only get paid when there is a fire, this actually happens.

So now we can add coffee badging to that list of perverse incentives. The intention was to get people into the office so that they would collaborate. Instead, we get people traveling to the office and back home, presumably on company time, just so they can swipe their badges.

According to this article from the Huffington Post, a significant number of people are now coffee badging.

  1. A report from Owl Labs reports that over half of the 2000 people surveyed were coffee badging.
  2. A LinkedIn poll showed that 19% of the 1568 respondents were coffee badging.

The results seem to be pretty clear. An incentive was put into place and it’s driving behaviour that is contrary to the intentions of it’s designers. It’s a perverse incentive.

See also: Code coverage is a perverse incentive