IZA World of Labor

Human resource management practices

  • 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 economics of employment tribunals

    Understanding how employment tribunals make decisions can guide reforms of employment dispute settlement

    Paul Latreille, January 2017
    Employment tribunals or labor courts are responsible for enforcing employment protection legislation and adjudicating rights-based disputes between employers and employees. Claim numbers are high and, in Great Britain, have been rising, affecting both administrative costs and economic competitiveness. Reforms have attempted to reduce the number of claims and to improve the speed and efficiency of dealing with them. Balancing employee protection against cost-effectiveness remains difficult, however. Gathering evidence on tribunals, including on claim instigation, resolution, decision making, and post-tribunal outcomes can inform policy efforts.
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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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  • Inequality and informality in transition and emerging countries

    Higher inequality decreases capital accumulation and increases informality, which, in turn, raises the income of the poor

    Roberto Dell'Anno, December 2016
    Higher inequality reduces capital accumulation and increases the informal economy, which creates additional employment opportunities for low-skilled and deprived people. Despite this positive feedback, informality raises problems for public finances and biases official statistics, reducing the effectiveness of redistributive policies. Policymakers should consider the links between inequality and informality because badly designed informality-reducing policies may increase inequality. However, convincing empirical evidence is still lacking and is usually limited to correlations rather than causal effects.
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  • Do social interactions in the workplace lead to productivity spillover among co-workers?

    Peer pressure can affect productivity and explain why workers’ wages and productivity depend on their co-workers’ productivity

    Thomas Cornelissen, November 2016
    Should one expect a worker’s productivity, and thus wage, to depend on the productivity of his/her co-workers in the same workplace, even if the workers carry out completely independent tasks and do not engage in team work? This may well be the case because social interaction among co-workers can lead to productivity spillover through knowledge spillover or peer pressure. The available empirical evidence suggests that, due to such peer effects, co-worker productivity positively affects a worker’s own productivity and wage, particularly in lower-skilled occupations.
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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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  • Internal hiring or external recruitment?

    The efficacy of internal or external hiring hinges on other policies that a firm uses simultaneously

    Jed DeVaro, February 2016
    Hiring is one of a firm’s most important decisions. When an employer fills a vacancy with one of its own workers (through promotion or lateral transfer), it forgoes the opportunity to fill the position with a new hire from outside the firm. Although both internal and external hiring methods are used, firms frequently have a bias favoring insiders. Internal and external hires differ in observable characteristics (such as skill levels), as do the employers making each type of hiring decision. Understanding those differences helps employers design and manage hiring policies that are appropriate for their organizations.
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  • Should firms allow workers to choose their own wage?

    Delegating the choice of wage setting to workers can lead to better outcomes for all involved parties

    Gary B. Charness, January 2016
    Economists typically predict that people are inherently selfish; however, experimental evidence suggests that this is often not the case. In particular, delegating a choice (such as a wage) to the performing party may imbue this party with a sense of responsibility, leading to improved outcomes for both the delegating entity and the performing party. This strategy can be risky, as some people will still choose to act in a selfish manner, causing adverse consequences for productivity and earnings. An important issue to consider is therefore how to encourage a sense of responsibility in the performing party.
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  • Profit sharing: Consequences for workers

    Profit sharing, a formal “bonus” program based on firm profitability, can provide strong employee motivation if properly designed

    Tony Fang, January 2016
    Profit sharing can lead to higher productivity and thus to higher firm profitability and employee wages. It may also enhance employment stability by enabling firms to adjust wages during downturns rather than lay off workers. While adoption of profit sharing increases earnings fluctuations, it also increases earnings growth in the longer term. As with any group incentive plan, profit sharing may result in some workers benefiting from the effort of others without themselves exerting greater effort (“free-rider problem”). However, there is evidence that in team-based production workplaces, profit sharing may reduce shirking and thus contribute to productivity growth.
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  • Working-time autonomy as a management practice

    Giving workers control over their working hours increases their commitment and benefits firm performance

    Michael Beckmann, January 2016
    Allowing workers to control their work hours (working-time autonomy) is a controversial policy for worker empowerment, with concerns that range from increased shirking to excessive intensification of work. Empirical evidence, however, supports neither view. Recent studies find that working-time autonomy improves individual and firm performance without promoting overload or exhaustion from work. However, if working-time autonomy is incorporated into a system of family-friendly workplace practices, firms may benefit from the trade-off between (more) fringe benefits and (lower) wages but not from increased productivity.
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