Incentive Insights from “Orange is the New Black”


As everyone with an Internet connection knows, Season 3 of Orange is the New Black was released last Thursday, two days earlier than its set release date. And, as with most Netflix shows, many people went into hibernation mode and binged watched the entire season all weekend. In the wake of a year-long absence, expectations ran high—and the series did not disappoint, with new characters introduced, past characters gaining new background stories, and a number of changes within Litchfield Penitentiary.

So what does this have to do with the business of incentive compensation management? When main character, Piper Chapman starts her own side business in the prison, she immediately faces similar challenges to today’s CEOs. They must think about: How to retain loyal employees, how important medical benefits are, and where incentives and engagement enter the picture? As Piper is limited to how she can compensate her employees, she creates her own currency of sorts by paying the prisoners their bonuses in ramen noodles.

Piper learns the lesson that some companies learn too late: Giving employees recognition and an enjoyable working environment results in better performance and longer tenure. Turning attitudes around can start with something as simple as free beverages and then increase from there. It also helps to listen to employees’ needs and feedback since it gives management accurate information and employees the sense that they’re being heard as well as appreciated.

Orange is the New Black actually had two incentive-based story lines this season. In addition to Piper’s ramen-flavored economy, the employees at Litchfield prison had their hours cut and were stripped of their medical benefits. After much backlash, the prison head, Joe Caputo, yielded, saying “If you want employees to show up and do a good job, you gotta take care of them.” Bottom line lesson from the show: when managing a business and employees, sometimes it’s the big things (medical benefits and meaningful incentives), sometimes it’s the little things (ramen).

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