IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Hidden Costs of Incentive Schemes


  • Sliwka, Dirk

    () (University of Cologne)


By enriching a principal-agent model it is shown that the introduction of monetary incentives may reduce an agent’s motivation. In a first step, we allow for the possibility that some agents stick to unverifiable agreements. The larger the fraction of reliable agents, the lower powered will then be the optimal incentive scheme and fixed wages become optimal when performance measurement is costly. If social norms matter such that some agents’ reliability is influenced by their beliefs on the convictions of others, high powered incentives signal that not sticking to agreements is a widespread behavior and may lead to lower effort levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Sliwka, Dirk, 2003. "On the Hidden Costs of Incentive Schemes," IZA Discussion Papers 844, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp844

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gneezy, Uri & Rustichini, Aldo, 2000. "A Fine is a Price," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 1-17, January.
    2. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
    3. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    4. Ernst Fehr & Georg Kirchsteiger & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(2), pages 437-459.
    5. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 1997. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device: Experimental Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 833-860, July.
    6. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2006. "A theory of reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 293-315, February.
    7. Frey, Bruno S & Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, 1997. "The Cost of Price Incentives: An Empirical Analysis of Motivation Crowding-Out," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(4), pages 746-755, September.
    8. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
    9. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "Multitask Principal-Agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(0), pages 24-52, Special I.
    10. Edward P. Lazear, 2000. "Performance Pay and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1346-1361, December.
    11. George A. Akerlof, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-569.
    12. Gibbons, Robert & Murphy, Kevin J, 1992. "Optimal Incentive Contracts in the Presence of Career Concerns: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 468-505, June.
    13. repec:eme:rlepps:v:18:y:1999:i:1999:p:177-242 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
    15. Daniel Parent, 2001. "Incentive Pay in the United States: Its Determinants and Its Effects," CIRANO Working Papers 2001s-04, CIRANO.
    16. Irlenbusch, Bernd & Sliwka, Dirk, 2005. "Incentives, Decision Frames, and Motivation Crowding Out – An Experimental Investigation," IZA Discussion Papers 1758, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    17. Kreps, David M, 1997. "Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(2), pages 359-364, May.
    18. Uri Gneezy & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "Pay Enough or Don't Pay at All," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 791-810.
    19. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1994. "The Firm as an Incentive System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 972-991, September.
    20. Frey, Bruno S & Jegen, Reto, 2001. " Motivation Crowding Theory," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 589-611, December.
    21. W. Bentley MacLeod & Daniel Parent, 1998. "Job Characteristics and the Form of Compensation," CIRANO Working Papers 98s-08, CIRANO.
    22. Geanakoplos, John & Pearce, David & Stacchetti, Ennio, 1989. "Psychological games and sequential rationality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 60-79, March.
    23. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520.
    24. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
    25. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2001. "Theories of Fairness and Reciprocity," Discussion Papers in Economics 14, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    26. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
    27. Robert Gibbons, 1996. "Incentives and Careers in Organizations," NBER Working Papers 5705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Bjorn Bartling & Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 2012. "Screening, Competition, and Job Design: Economic Origins of Good Jobs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 834-864, April.
    2. Oliver Gürtler, 2008. "Implicit contracting with a (potentially) reliable agent," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 94(2), pages 177-189, July.
    3. Grout, Paul & Schnedler, Wendelin, 2008. "Non-Profit Organizations in a Bureaucratic Environment," Sonderforschungsbereich 504 Publications 08-17, Sonderforschungsbereich 504, Universität Mannheim;Sonderforschungsbereich 504, University of Mannheim.
    4. Friebel, Guido & Schnedler, Wendelin, 2011. "Team governance: Empowerment or hierarchical control," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 1-13.
    5. Wendelin Schnedler & Radovan Vadovic, 2011. "Legitimacy of Control," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 20(4), pages 985-1009, December.
    6. Armin Falk & Michael Kosfeld, "undated". "Distrust - The Hidden Cost of Control," IEW - Working Papers 193, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    7. Patricia Crifo & Jean-Louis Rullière, 2004. "Incentives and Anonymity Principle: Crowding Out Toward Users," CESifo Working Paper Series 1316, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Rose, Timothy & Manley, Karen, 2011. "Motivation toward financial incentive goals on construction projects," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 64(7), pages 765-773, July.
    9. Wendelin Schnedler, 2011. "You Don't Always Get What You Pay For: Bonuses, Perceived Income and Effort," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 12(1), pages 1-10, February.
    10. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2008. "Pride and Prejudice: The Human Side of Incentive Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 990-1008, June.
    11. Michael Kosfeld & Armin Falk, 2006. "The Hidden Costs of Control," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1611-1630, December.
    12. Gürtler, Oliver, 2006. "Implicit Contracts: Two Different Approaches," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 110, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    13. Bruno S. Frey & Margit Osterloh, "undated". "Yes, Managers Should be Paid Like Bureaucrats," IEW - Working Papers 187, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    14. Pouliakas, Konstantinos & Theodossiou, Ioannis, 2012. "Rewarding carrots and crippling sticks: Eliciting employee preferences for the optimal incentive design," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 1247-1265.
    15. Pouliakas, Konstantinos & Theodossiou, Ioannis, 2009. "Rewarding Carrots & Crippling Sticks: Eliciting Employee Preferences for the Optimal Incentive Mix in Europe," MPRA Paper 14167, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    16. Bernd Irlenbusch, 2006. "Are non-binding contracts really not worth the paper?," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(1), pages 21-40.
    17. Margit Osterloh & Bruno S. Frey, "undated". "Corporate Governance for Crooks? The Case for Corporate Virtue," IEW - Working Papers 164, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.

    More about this item


    incentives; motivation crowding-out; intrinsic motivation; honesty;

    JEL classification:

    • 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
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp844. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mark Fallak). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.