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Measuring Ratchet Effects within a Firm: Evidence from a Field Experiment varying Contractual Commitment

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  • Charles Bellemare
  • Bruce Shearer

Abstract

We present results from a field experiment designed to measure the importance of managerial commitment to a contract within a firm that pays its workers piece rates. In the tree planting industry the piece rate paid to workers is determined as a function of the difficulty of the terrain to be planted. During the experiment, workers began planting a terrain at a trial piece rate, but were told this rate would be revised upwards if, after a few work days, average productivity was below that observed on a similar (control) terrain on which the firm had committed to the contract. Our results suggest that worker productivity was 20% to 40% lower in the absence of commitment. The reduction was less pronounced when workers had less time to benefit from any subsequent increase in the piece rate. This provides support for models of worker turnover as a means of overcoming ratchet effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles Bellemare & Bruce Shearer, 2014. "Measuring Ratchet Effects within a Firm: Evidence from a Field Experiment varying Contractual Commitment," Cahiers de recherche 1418, CIRPEE.
  • Handle: RePEc:lvl:lacicr:1418
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    File URL: http://www.cirpee.org/fileadmin/documents/Cahiers_2014/CIRPEE14-18.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Martin L. Weitzman, 1980. "The "Ratchet Principle" and Performance Incentives," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 11(1), pages 302-308, Spring.
    2. Levenson, Alec R. & Zoghi, Cindy & Gibbs, Michael & Benson, George, 2011. "Optimizing Incentive Plan Design: A Case Study," IZA Discussion Papers 5985, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Lazear, Edward P, 1986. "Salaries and Piece Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 405-431, July.
    4. Gibbons, Robert, 1987. "Piece-Rate Incentive Schemes," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(4), pages 413-429, October.
    5. Barry W. Ickes & Larry Samuelson, 1987. "Job Transfers and Incentives in Complex Organizations: Thwarting the Ratchet Effect," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(2), pages 275-286, Summer.
    6. David P. Baron & David Besanko, 1987. "Commitment and Fairness in a Dynamic Regulatory Relationship," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 54(3), pages 413-436.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Ratchet effect; piece rates; incentive contracts; field experiments;

    JEL classification:

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

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