Pay and incentives

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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.
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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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  • 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.
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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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  • 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.
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  • Performance-related pay and labor productivity

    Do pay incentives and financial participation schemes have an effect on a firm’s performance?

    Claudio Lucifora, May 2015
    Many firms offer employees a remuneration package that links pay to performance as a means of motivation. It also improves efficiency and reduces turnover and absenteeism. The effects on productivity depend on the type of scheme employed (individual or group performance) and its design (commissions, piece-rate or sharing schemes). Individual incentives demonstrate the largest effect, while group or team incentives are smaller in magnitude. The case for government intervention through tax breaks and other financial incentives is highly debated due to differences across firms and the potential for economic inefficiencies.
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  • 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.
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