Pay and incentives

  • Skill utilization at work: Opportunity and motivation

    Challenging jobs and work incentives induce workers to use their skills but make life difficult for managers

    Giovanni Russo, December 2017
    Organizational characteristics and management styles vary dramatically both across and within sectors, which leads to huge variation in job design and complexity. Complex jobs pose a challenge for management and workers; an incentive structure aimed at unlocking workers’ potential can effectively address this challenge. However, the heterogeneity of job complexity and the inherent difficulty in devising a correct set of incentives may result in misalignment between job demands and incentivized behaviors, and in complaints by employers about the lack of skilled workers.
  • Do post-prison job opportunities reduce recidivism?

    Increasing the availability of high-quality job opportunities can reduce recidivism among released prisoners

    Kevin Schnepel, November 2017
    The majority of individuals released from prison face limited employment opportunities and do not successfully reintegrate into society. The inability to find stable work is often cited as a key determinant of failed re-entry (or “recidivism”). However, empirical evidence that demonstrates a causal impact of job opportunities on recidivism is sparse. In fact, several randomized evaluations of employment-focused programs find increases in employment but little impact on recidivism. Recent evidence points to wages and job quality as important determinants of recidivism among former prisoners.
  • Production spillovers: Are they valued?

    Spillovers can contribute to team success, although workers are not compensated for them

    Joseph Price, August 2017
    Workers can contribute to total firm production directly through their own output or indirectly through their influence on the output of co-workers. Workers with positive productivity spillover effects cause individuals around them to perform better and increase overall team production. In contrast to the “peer effects” literature, workers with positive productivity spillovers may not be the workers with the highest levels of personal output. Such productivity spillovers are important for team success even though they play only a minor role in determining worker pay.
  • Relative pay, effort, and labor supply

    Comparisons to others’ pay and to one’s own past earnings can affect willingness to work and effort on the job

    Anat Bracha, June 2017
    Recent studies show that even irrelevant relative pay information—earnings compared to the past or to others—significantly affects workers’ willingness to work (labor supply) and effort. This effect stems mainly from those whose pay compares unfavorably; accordingly, earning less compared to others or less than in the past significantly reduces one’s willingness to work and effort exerted on the job. Comparing favorably, however, has mixed effects—with usually no effect on effort, but positive or no effects on labor supply. Understanding when relative pay increases labor supply and effort can thus help firms devise optimal payment structures.
  • Multitasking at work: Do firms get what they pay for?

    Rewarding only one dimension of performance may result in employees ignoring other dimensions

    Ann P. Bartel, May 2017
    To align employees’ interests with the firm’s goals, employers often use performance-based pay, but designing such a compensation plan is challenging because performance is typically multifaceted. For example, a sales employee should be incentivized to sell the company’s product, but a focus on current sales without rewarding the salespeople according to the quality of the product and/or customer service may result in fewer future sales. To solve this problem, firms often increase the number of metrics by which they evaluate their employees, but complex compensation plans may be difficult for employees to understand.
  • Gender differences in corporate hierarchies

    How and why do the careers of men and women differ? What policies could reduce the differences?

    Antti Kauhanen, May 2017
    The gender wage gap is largely due to men and women holding different kinds of jobs. This job segregation is partly driven by gender differences in careers in corporate hierarchies. Research has shown that the careers of men and women begin to diverge immediately upon entry into the labor market and that subsequent career progress exacerbates the divergence. This divergence of career progress explains a large part of the gender wage gap. Understanding how and why the careers of men and women differ is necessary to design effective policies that can reduce the gender differences in hierarchies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Does employee ownership improve performance?

    Employee ownership generally increases firm performance and worker outcomes

    Douglas Kruse, December 2016
    Employee ownership has attracted growing attention for its potential to improve economic outcomes for companies, workers, and the economy in general, and help reduce inequality. Over 100 studies across many countries indicate that employee ownership is generally linked to better productivity, pay, job stability, and firm survival—though the effects are dispersed and causation is difficult to firmly establish. Free-riding often appears to be overcome by worker co-monitoring and reciprocity. Financial risk is an important concern but is generally minimized by higher pay and job stability among employee owners.
  • 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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