IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Analyzing Compensation Methods in Manufacturing: Piece Rates, Time Rates, or Gain-Sharing?


  • Susan Helper
  • Morris M. Kleiner
  • Yingchun Wang


Economists have often argued that "pay for performance" is the optimal compensation scheme. However, use of the simplest form of pay for performance, the piece rate, has been in decline in manufacturing in recent decades. We show both theoretically and empirically that these changes are due to adoption of "modern manufacturing" in which firms produce a greater variety of products to a more demanding quality and delivery standard. We further develop a theory of the type of compensation system appropriate for this kind of production, in which there is a high return to "multi-tasking", where the same workers perform both easy-to-observe and hard-to-observe tasks and to "just-in-time" production, which entails a high cost of holding inventory. We test these predictions using detailed monthly information on firm outcomes and employee surveys from four plants in two companies that adopted modern manufacturing methods and changed their method of compensation from piece rates to either time rates or value-added gain-sharing. We find that time rates and gain-sharing are associated with reduced employee performance on easy-to-observe tasks, enhanced performance on hard-to-observe tasks, and improved firm profitability. Our analysis shows the importance of distinguishing types of incentive pay: we find that modern manufacturing is consistent with either group incentive pay (such as gain-sharing), or no incentives (such as hourly pay), but inconsistent with individual incentive pay (piece rates).

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Helper & Morris M. Kleiner & Yingchun Wang, 2010. "Analyzing Compensation Methods in Manufacturing: Piece Rates, Time Rates, or Gain-Sharing?," NBER Working Papers 16540, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16540
    Note: LS PR

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Paarsch, Harry J & Shearer, Bruce, 2000. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(1), pages 59-92, February.
    2. Susan Helper & Morris M. Kleiner, 2009. "International Differences in Lean Production, Productivity, and Employee Attitudes," NBER Chapters,in: International Differences in the Business Practices and Productivity of Firms, pages 231-261 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. Robert A. Hart & J. Elizabeth Roberts, 2013. "Industrial Composition, Methods of Compensation and Real Earnings in the Great Depression," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 226(1), pages 17-29, November.
    2. Roman M. Sheremeta, 2016. "The pros and cons of workplace tournaments," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 302-302, October.
    3. Jared Rubin & Anya Samek & Roman M. Sheremeta, 2017. "Loss Aversion and the Quantity-Quality Tradeoff," Working Papers 17-20, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    4. Jared Rubin & Anya Samek & Roman Sheremeta, 2016. "Incentivizing Quantity and Quality of Output: An Experimental Investigation of The Quantity-Quality Trade-Off," Artefactual Field Experiments 00438, The Field Experiments Website.
    5. Güth, Werner & Pull, Kerstin & Stadler, Manfred, 2014. "Delegation, worker compensation, and strategic competition," University of Tuebingen Working Papers in Economics and Finance 67, University of Tuebingen, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences.
    6. Robert A. Hart, 2016. "The rise and fall of piecework," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 254-254, April.
    7. Hart, Robert A & Roberts, J Elizabeth, 2013. "The rise and fall of piecework-timework wage differentials: market volatility, labor heterogeneity, and output pricing," Stirling Economics Discussion Papers 2013-12, University of Stirling, Division of Economics.
    8. Ann Bartel & Brianna Cardiff-Hicks & Kathryn Shaw, 2013. "Compensation Matters: Incentives for Multitasking in a Law Firm," NBER Working Papers 19412, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Felipe Balmaceda, 2011. "Job Design and Incentives," Documentos de Trabajo 279, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L2 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production
    • L6 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing


    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:nbr:nberwo:16540. 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: (). 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.