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Incentive Schemes, Sorting, and Behavioral Biases of Employees: Experimental Evidence

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  • Ian Larkin
  • Stephen Leider

Abstract

We investigate how the convexity of a firm's incentives interacts with worker overconfidence to affect sorting decisions and performance. We demonstrate, experimentally, that overconfident employees are more likely to sort into a nonlinear incentive scheme over a linear one, even though this reduces pay for many subjects and despite the presence of clear feedback. Additionally, the linear scheme attracts demotivated, underconfident workers who perform below their ability. Our findings suggest that firms may design incentive schemes that adapt to the behavioral biases of employees to "sort in" ("sort away") attractive (unattractive) employees; such schemes may also reduce a firm's wage bill. (JEL D03, D83, J24, J31, M12)

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Larkin & Stephen Leider, 2012. "Incentive Schemes, Sorting, and Behavioral Biases of Employees: Experimental Evidence," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 184-214, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmic:v:4:y:2012:i:2:p:184-214
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/mic.4.2.184
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Oyer, Paul & Schaefer, Scott, 2005. "Why do some firms give stock options to all employees?: An empirical examination of alternative theories," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 99-133, April.
    2. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk, 2011. "Performance Pay and Multidimensional Sorting: Productivity, Preferences, and Gender," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 556-590, April.
    3. S. Dellavigna., 2011. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 4.
    4. Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2006. "Paying Not to Go to the Gym," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 694-719, June.
    5. Nekby, Lena & Thoursie, Peter Skogman & Vahtrik, Lars, 2008. "Gender and self-selection into a competitive environment: Are women more overconfident than men?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 405-407, September.
    6. Busenitz, Lowell W. & Barney, Jay B., 1997. "Differences between entrepreneurs and managers in large organizations: Biases and heuristics in strategic decision-making," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 9-30, January.
    7. Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, 1999. "Wage Rigidity in a Competitive Incomplete Contract Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(1), pages 106-134, February.
    8. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2007. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1067-1101.
    9. Paul Oyer, 1998. "Fiscal Year Ends and Nonlinear Incentive Contracts: The Effect on Business Seasonality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 149-185.
    10. Anja Sautmann, 2013. "Contracts for Agents with Biased Beliefs: Some Theory and an Experiment," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 124-156, August.
    11. Michael D. Grubb, 2009. "Selling to Overconfident Consumers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1770-1807, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation

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