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Do fixed payments affect effort? Examining relative thinking in mixed compensation schemes

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  • Azar, Ofer H.

Abstract

Several earlier studies have shown that people exhibit “relative thinking”: they consider relative price differences even when only absolute price differences are relevant. The article examines whether relative thinking exists when people face mixed compensation schemes that include both fixed and pay-for-performance components. Such compensation schemes are prevalent in many occupations (e.g., salespeople and managers) and therefore are an important practical issue. Surprisingly, the ratio between the pay-for-performance and the fixed compensation does not affect effort, meaning that no relative thinking is found. Another experiment shows that this is not due to reciprocity that cancels out relative thinking. In a third experiment subjects make similar decisions without incentives and the results suggest that the different context (compensation schemes instead of price comparisons) and not the introduction of financial incentives (which were not used in previous studies) is the reason that relative thinking disappears. The results have implications for designing incentive schemes in firms and for designing experiments.

Suggested Citation

  • Azar, Ofer H., 2019. "Do fixed payments affect effort? Examining relative thinking in mixed compensation schemes," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 52-66.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:70:y:2019:i:c:p:52-66
    DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2018.10.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gächter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
    2. Gary Charness & Guillaume R. Frechette & John H. Kagel, 2004. "How Robust is Laboratory Gift Exchange?," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 7(2), pages 189-205, June.
    3. Frisch, Deborah, 1993. "Reasons for Framing Effects," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 399-429, April.
    4. Armin Falk & Andrea Ichino, 2006. "Clean Evidence on Peer Effects," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(1), pages 39-58, January.
    5. Azar, Ofer H., 2011. "Do people think about absolute or relative price differences when choosing between substitute goods?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 450-457, June.
    6. Dan Ariely & Uri Gneezy & George Loewenstein & Nina Mazar, 2009. "Large Stakes and Big Mistakes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(2), pages 451-469.
    7. Azar, Ofer H., 2008. "The effect of relative thinking on firm strategy and market outcomes: A location differentiation model with endogenous transportation costs," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 684-697, November.
    8. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
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