Behavioral and personnel economics

Articles in behavioral economics discuss the emotional and cognitive factors that influence the decisions of actors, in particular employers and employees. Personnel economics analyzes the internal organizational strategy of the firm and the human resource management practices chosen to pursue that strategy.

  • Unemployment and happiness

    Successful policies for helping the unemployed need to confront the adverse effects of unemployment on feelings of life satisfaction

    Rainer Winkelmann, October 2014
    Many studies document a large negative effect of unemployment on happiness. Recent research has looked into factors related to impacts on happiness, such as adaptation, social work norms, social capital, religious beliefs, and psychological resources. Getting unemployed people back to work can do more for their happiness than compensating them for doing nothing. But not all unemployed people are equally unhappy. Understanding the differences holds the key to designing effective policies, for helping the unemployed back into work, and for more evenly distributing the burden of unemployment resulting from economic restructuring.
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  • Can lab experiments help design personnel policies?

    Employers can use laboratory experiments to structure payment policies and incentive schemes

    Marie Claire Villeval, November 2016
    Can a company attract a different type of employee by changing its compensation scheme? Is it sufficient to pay more to increase employees’ motivation? Should a firm provide evaluation feedback to employees based on their absolute or their relative performance? Laboratory experiments can help address these questions by identifying the causal impact of variations in personnel policy on employees’ productivity and mobility. Although they are collected in an artificial environment, the qualitative external validity of findings from the lab is now well recognized.
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  • Relative deprivation in the labor market

    The choice of reference group crucially determines subjective deprivation and thus affects labor market behavior

    Paolo Verme, June 2017
    Why do different population groups (e.g. rural vs. urban, youth vs. elderly and men vs. women) experience the same objective labor status differently? One hypothesis is that people are more concerned with relative deprivation than objective deprivation and they value their own status relative to the status of their peers—the reference group. One way to test this hypothesis in the labor market is to measure individual differences in labor status while controlling for characteristics that define population groups. This measure is called “relative labor deprivation” and can help policymakers to better understand how labor claims are generated.
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  • Are workers motivated by the greater good?

    Workers care about employers’ social causes, but the public sector does not attract particularly motivated employees

    Mirco Tonin, March 2015
    Employees show more commitment to an employer that promotes the greater good, and they work harder too. Moreover, many people are willing to give up some of their compensation to contribute to a social cause. Being able to attract a motivated workforce would be particularly important for the public sector, but this goal remains elusive. Indeed, there is evidence for the public sector that paying people more or underlining the career opportunities (as opposed to the social aspects) associated with public sector jobs is instrumental in attracting a more productive workforce, without having a negative impact on intrinsic motivation.
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  • Gender quotas on boards of directors

    Little evidence that gender quotas for women on boards of directors improve firm performance

    Nina Smith, May 2014
    Arguments for increasing gender diversity on boards of directors range from ensuring equal opportunity to improving firm performance, but the empirical results are mixed and often negative. Current research does not justify gender quotas on grounds of economic efficiency. Furthermore, in most countries the number of women qualified to join boards of directors is limited, and it is not clear from the evidence that quotas lead to a larger pool of qualified female candidates in the medium and long term.
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  • Can firms oversee more workers with fewer managers?

    Firms need to tailor their allocation of talent and responsibility, and their managerial structure, to fit their competitive situation

    Valerie Smeets, February 2017
    Managers are supervising more and more workers, and firms are getting flatter. However, not all firms have been keen on increasing the number of subordinates that their bosses manage (referred to as the “span of control” in human resource management), contending that there are limits to leveraging managerial ability. The diversity of firms’ organizational structure suggests that no universal rule can be applied. Identifying the factors behind the choice of firms’ internal organization is crucial and will help firms properly design their hierarchy and efficiently allocate scarce managerial resources within the organization.
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  • The pros and cons of workplace tournaments

    Tournaments can outperform other compensation schemes such as piece-rate and fixed wage contracts

    Roman M. Sheremeta, October 2016
    Tournaments are commonly used in the workplace to determine promotion, assign bonuses, and motivate personal development. Tournament-based contracts can be very effective in eliciting high effort, often outperforming other compensation contracts, but they can also have negative consequences for both managers and workers. The benefits and disadvantages of workplace tournaments have been identified in an explosion of theoretical, empirical, and experimental research over the past 30 years. Based on these findings, suggestions and guidelines can be provided for when it might be beneficial to use tournaments in the workplace.
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  • Labor market policies, unemployment, and identity

    Policies to help the unemployed can affect feelings of identity and well-being, so measures need to be evaluated carefully

    Ronnie Schöb, June 2016
    Unemployment not only causes material hardship but can also affect an individual’s sense of identity (i.e. their perception of belonging to a specific social group) and, consequently, feelings of personal happiness and subjective well-being. Labor market policies designed to help the unemployed may not overcome their misery: wage subsidies can be stigmatizing, workfare may not provide the intended incentives, and flexicurity (a system that combines a flexible labor market with active policy measures), may increase uncertainty. Policies aimed at bringing people back to work should thus take the subjective well-being of the affected persons more into consideration.
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  • Efficiency wages: Variants and implications

    Wages affect productivity and non-wage costs; this carries important labor market and policy implications

    Ekkehart Schlicht, July 2016
    Higher wages increase labor costs but also improve the productivity of the labor force in several ways. If firms take this into account and set their wages accordingly, the resulting wages could fail to adjust demand and supply but may induce phenomena like over-education, discrimination, regional wage differentials, and a tendency for larger firms to pay higher wages. All these phenomena are quantitatively important and well-established empirically. Efficiency wage theory provides an integrated theoretical explanation rather than a sundry list of reasons, and offers an efficiency argument for progressive income taxation.
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  • Correspondence testing studies

    What can we learn about discrimination in hiring?

    Dan-Olof Rooth, May 2014
    Anti-discrimination policies play an important role in public discussions. However, identifying discriminatory practices in the labor market is not an easy task. Correspondence testing provides a credible way to reveal discrimination in hiring and provide hard facts for policies. The method involves sending matched pairs of identical job applications to employers posting jobs—the only difference being a characteristic that signals membership to a group.
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