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.

  • Access to public transport and labor informality

    Poor public transport can reduce employment in the formal sector

    Public transport infrastructure has not kept up with the demands of growing populations in cities in developing countries. Infrastructure provision has historically been biased against less affluent areas, so access to formal jobs is often difficult and costly for a large part of the lower-income population. As a result, low-income workers may be discouraged from commuting to formal jobs, lack information on job opportunities, and face discrimination. Through these channels, constrained accessibility can result in higher rates of job informality. Reducing informality can be a target for well-designed transport policies.
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  • Air pollution and worker productivity

    Higher levels of air pollution reduce worker productivity, even when air quality is generally low

    Matthew Neidell, June 2017
    Environmental regulations are typically considered to be a drag on the economy. However, improved environmental quality may actually enhance productivity by creating a healthier workforce. Evidence suggests that improvements in air quality lead to improvements in worker productivity across a range of sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, and the service sectors. These effects also arise at levels of air quality that are below pollution thresholds in countries with the highest levels of environmental regulation. The findings suggest a new approach for understanding the consequences of environmental regulations.
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  • Alternative dispute resolution

    How different procedures might succeed in settling disputes

    David L. Dickinson, September 2014
    Alternative dispute resolution procedures such as arbitration and mediation are the most common methods for resolving wage, contract, and grievance disputes, but they lead to varying levels of success and acceptability of the outcome depending on their design. Some innovative procedures, not yet implemented in the real world, are predicted to improve on existing procedures in some ways. But controlled tests of several procedures show that the simple addition of a nonbinding stage prior to binding dispute resolution can produce the best results in terms of cost (monetary and “uncertainty” costs) and acceptability.
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  • Anonymous job applications and hiring discrimination

    Anonymous job applications can level the playing field in access to jobs but cannot prevent all forms of discrimination

    Ulf Rinne, May 2014
    The use of anonymous job applications to combat hiring discrimination is gaining attention and interest. Results from a number of field experiments in European countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden are considered here) shed light on their potential to reduce some of the discriminatory barriers to hiring for minority and other disadvantaged groups. But although this approach can achieve its primary aims, there are also some cautions to consider.
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  • Are happy workers more productive?

    Firms’ concerns about the well-being of their employees are largely supported by the evidence

    Eugenio Proto, December 2016
    Recently, large companies like Google have made substantial investments in the well-being of their workers. While evidence shows that better performing companies have happier employees, there has been much less research on whether happy employees contribute to better company performance. Finding causal relations between employee well-being and company performance is important for firms to justify spending corporate resources to provide a happier work environment for their employees. While correlational and laboratory studies do find a positive relationship, the evidence remains sparse.
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  • Are overhead costs a good guide for charitable giving?

    Donors rely on overhead costs to evaluate charities, but that reliance creates disincentives for charities to hire skilled workers

    Jonathan Meer, January 2017
    Charity rating agencies often focus on overhead cost ratios in evaluating charities, and donors appear to be sensitive to these measures when deciding where to donate. Yet, there appears to be a tenuous connection between this widely-used metric and a charity’s effectiveness. There is evidence that a focus on overhead costs leads charities to underinvest in important functions, especially skilled workers. To evaluate policies that regulate overhead costs, it is necessary to examine whether donors care about overhead costs, whether they are good measures of charity effectiveness, and what effects a focus on overhead costs has on charities.
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  • Are part-time workers less productive and underpaid?

    The impact of part-time workers on firms’ productivity is unclear, and lower wages depend mainly on occupation and sector

    Andrea Garnero, April 2016
    About one in five workers across OECD countries is employed part-time, and the share has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the economic and financial crisis in 2007. Part-time options play an important economic role by providing more flexible working arrangements for both workers and firms. Part-time employment has also contributed substantially to increasing the employment rate, especially among women. However, part-time work comes at a cost of lower wages for workers, mainly because part-time jobs are concentrated in lower paying occupations and sectors, while the impact on firms’ productivity is still not very clear.
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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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  • 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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  • 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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