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Incentives in the Public Sector: Evidence from a Government Agency

  • Burgess, Simon

    ()

    (University of Bristol)

  • Propper, Carol

    ()

    (University of Bristol)

  • Ratto, Marisa

    ()

    (Université Paris-Dauphine)

  • Tominey, Emma

    ()

    (University of York)

This paper addresses a lack of evidence on the impact of performance pay in the public sector by evaluating a pilot scheme of incentives in a major government agency. The incentive scheme was based on teams and covered quantity and quality targets, measured with varying degrees of precision. We use data from the agency's performance management system and personnel records plus matched labour market data. We focus on three main issues: whether performance pay matters for public service worker productivity, what the team basis of the scheme implies, and the impact of the differential measurement precision. We show that the use of performance pay had no impact at the mean, but that there was significant heterogeneity of response. This heterogeneity was patterned as one would expect from a free rider versus peer monitoring perspective. We found that the incentive scheme had a substantial positive effect in small teams, and a negative response in large teams. We found little impact of the scheme on quality measures, which we interpret as due to the differential measurement technology. We show that the scheme in small teams had non-trivial effects on output, and our estimates suggest that the use of incentive pay is much more cost effective than a general pay rise.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6738.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6738
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  1. Simon Burgess & Carol Propper & Marisa Ratto & StephanievonHinke KesslerScholder & Emma Tominey, 2010. "Smarter Task Assignment or Greater Effort: The Impact of Incentives on Team Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(547), pages 968-989, 09.
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  3. Kathleen J. Mullen & Richard G. Frank & Meredith B. Rosenthal, 2009. "Can You Get What You Pay For? Pay-For-Performance and the Quality of Healthcare Providers," NBER Working Papers 14886, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  5. Avinash Dixit, 2002. "# Incentives and Organizations in the Public Sector: An Interpretative Review," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(4), pages 696-727.
  6. Karthik Muralidharan & Venkatesh Sundararaman, 2009. "Teacher Performance Pay: Experimental Evidence from India," NBER Working Papers 15323, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Oriana Bandiera & Luigi Guiso & Andrea Prat & Raffaella Sadun, 2010. "Matching Firms, Managers, and Incentives," Harvard Business School Working Papers 10-073, Harvard Business School, revised Aug 2011.
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  12. Gerald Marschke & Pascal Courty, 2002. "An Empirical Investigation of Gaming Responses to Explicit Performance Incentives," Discussion Papers 02-06, University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics.
  13. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2007. "Incentives for Managers and Inequality Among Workers: Evidence From a Firm-Level Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(2), pages 729-773, 05.
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  17. Paarsch, H-J & Shearer, B, 1996. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects : Statistical Evidence From Payroll Records," Papers 9623, Laval - Recherche en Energie.
  18. Simon Burgess & Marisa Ratto, 2003. "The Role of Incentives in the Public Sector: Issues and Evidence," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 03/071, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  19. Heckman, James J & Ichimura, Hidehiko & Todd, Petra E, 1997. "Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator: Evidence from Evaluating a Job Training Programme," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 605-54, October.
  20. George Baker, 2002. "Distortion and Risk in Optimal Incentive Contracts," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(4), pages 728-751.
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