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Knowing that You Matter, Matters! The Interplay of Meaning, Monetary Incentives, and Worker Recognition


  • Kosfeld, Michael

    () (Goethe University Frankfurt)

  • Neckermann, Susanne

    () (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

  • Yang, Xiaolan

    () (Zhejiang University)


We manipulate workers' perceived meaning of a job in a field experiment. Half of the workers are informed that their job is important, the other half are told that their job is of no relevance. Results show that workers exert more effort when meaning is high, corroborating previous findings on the relationship between meaning and work effort. We then compare the effect of meaning to the effect of monetary incentives and of worker recognition via symbolic awards. We also look at interaction effects. While meaning outperforms monetary incentives, the latter have a robust positive effect on performance that is independent of meaning. In contrast, meaning and recognition have largely similar effects but interact negatively. Our results are in line with image-reward theory (Bénabou and Tirole 2006) and suggest that meaning and worker recognition operate via the same channel, namely image seeking.

Suggested Citation

  • Kosfeld, Michael & Neckermann, Susanne & Yang, Xiaolan, 2014. "Knowing that You Matter, Matters! The Interplay of Meaning, Monetary Incentives, and Worker Recognition," IZA Discussion Papers 8055, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8055

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fehrler, Sebastian & Kosfeld, Michael, 2014. "Pro-social missions and worker motivation: An experimental study," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 99-110.
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    12. Ashraf, Nava & Bandiera, Oriana & Lee, Scott S., 2014. "Awards unbundled: Evidence from a natural field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 44-63.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sheheryar Banuri & Katarina Dankova & Philip Keefer, 2017. "It's not all fun and games: Feedback, task motivation, and effort," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 17-10, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    2. Kvaløy, Ola & Schöttner, Anja, 2015. "Incentives to motivate," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 26-42.

    More about this item


    meaning; monetary incentives; worker recognition; field experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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