IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Monitoring, Motivation and Management: The Determinants of Opportunistic Behavior in a Field Experiment

  • Daniel Nagin
  • James Rebitzer
  • Seth Sanders
  • Lowell Taylor

Economic models of incentives in employment relationships are based on a specific theory of motivation. Employees are 'rational cheaters,' who anticipate the consequences of their actions and shirk when the perceived marginal benefit exceeds the marginal cost. Managers respond to this decision calculus by implementing monitoring and incentive pay practices that lessen the attraction of shirking. This 'rational cheater model' is not the only model of opportunistic behavior, and indeed is viewed skeptically by human resource practitioners and by many non-economists who study employment relationships. We investigate the 'rational cheater model' using data from a double-blind field experiment that allows us to observe the effect of experimentally-induced variations in monitoring on employee opportunism. The experiment is unique in that it occurs in the context of an ongoing employment relationship, i.e., with the firm's employees producing output as usual under the supervision of their front-line managers. The results indicate that a significant fraction of employees behave roughly in ccordance with the 'rational cheater model.' We also find, however, that a substantial proportion of employees do not respond to manipulations in the monitoring rate. This heterogeneity is related to employee assessments about their general treatment by the emp loyer.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8811.

in new window

Date of creation: Feb 2002
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Daniel S. Nagin & James B. Rebitzer & Seth Sanders & Lowell J. Taylor, 2002. "Monitoring, Motivation, and Management: The Determinants of Opportunistic Behavior in a Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 850-873, September.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8811
Note: LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
  2. Cappelli, Peter & Chauvin, Keith, 1991. "An Interplant Test of the Efficiency Wage Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(3), pages 769-87, August.
  3. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  4. Robert Slonim & Alvin E. Roth, 1998. "Learning in High Stakes Ultimatum Games: An Experiment in the Slovak Republic," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 569-596, May.
  5. Encinosa III, William E. & Gaynor, Martin & Rebitzer, James B., 2005. "The Sociology of Groups and the Economics of Incentives: Theory and Evidence on Compensation Systems," IZA Discussion Papers 1851, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Landers, Renee M & Rebitzer, James B & Taylor, Lowell J, 1996. "Rat Race Redux: Adverse Selection in the Determination of Work Hours in Law Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 329-48, June.
  7. Matthew Rabin., 1997. "Psychology and Economics," Economics Working Papers 97-251, University of California at Berkeley.
  8. Martin Gaynor & James B. Rebitzer & Lowell J. Taylor, 2001. "Incentives in HMOs," NBER Working Papers 8522, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  10. Camerer, Colin, et al, 1997. "Labor Supply of New York City Cabdrivers: One Day at a Time," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 407-41, May.
  11. Kandel, E. & Lazear, E.P., 1990. "Peer Pressure and Partnerships," Papers 90-07, Rochester, Business - Managerial Economics Research Center.
  12. Rebitzer, James B., 1995. "Is there a trade-off between supervision and wages? An empirical test of efficiency wage theory," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 107-129, September.
  13. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8811. 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: ()

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.