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The Impact of Risk Aversion and Stress on the Incentive Effect of Performance Pay


  • C. Bram Cadsby

    () (Department of Economics, University of Guelph)

  • Fei Song

    () (Ted Rogers School of Business Management, Ryerson University)

  • Francis Tapon

    () (Department of Economics, University of Guelph)


We demonstrate that effectiveness of performance-contingent incentives is inversely related to individual risk-aversion levels through two mechanisms: 1) rational optimizing decisions about the amount of effort to supply when effort is positively correlated with risk exposure and 2) the possibly choke-inducing stress accompanying financial uncertainty. In two laboratory studies using real-effort tasks, we find a significant inverse relationship between productivity improvement under performance pay and risk-aversion levels. Moreover, we show that both mechanisms help explain this result. For about 25% of participants, performance actually deteriorates under performance pay, and the probability of such deterioration increases with risk aversion and stress.

Suggested Citation

  • C. Bram Cadsby & Fei Song & Francis Tapon, 2009. "The Impact of Risk Aversion and Stress on the Incentive Effect of Performance Pay," Working Papers 0912, University of Guelph, Department of Economics and Finance.
  • Handle: RePEc:gue:guelph:2009-12

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    Cited by:

    1. Marco A. Marini & Paolo Polidori & Désirée Teobaldelli & Davide Ticchi, 2018. "Optimal Incentives in a Principal–Agent Model with Endogenous Technology," Games, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(1), pages 1-13, February.
    2. Zubanov, Nick & Cadsby, Bram & Song, Fei, 2017. "The "Sales Agent" Problem: Effort Choice under Performance Pay as Behavior toward Risk," IZA Discussion Papers 10542, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. C. Bram Cadsby & Jim Engle-Warnick & Tony Fang & Fei Song, 2014. "Psychological Incentives, Financial Incentives, and Risk Attitudes in Tournaments: An Artefactual Field Experiment," Working Papers 1403, University of Guelph, Department of Economics and Finance.
    4. Charness, Gary & Kuhn, Peter, 2011. "Lab Labor: What Can Labor Economists Learn from the Lab?," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    5. Zubanov, N.V., 2012. "Risk Aversion and Effort in an Incentive Pay Scheme with Multiplicative Noise: Theory and Experimental Evidence," ERIM Report Series Research in Management ERS-2012-005-STR, Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), ERIM is the joint research institute of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    More about this item


    risk aversion; performance pay; incentive; stress; choking under pressure; productivity; pay for performance; piece rate; experiment; compensation.;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods

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