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Empirical evidence

There is however considerable empirical evidence of a positive effect of compensation on performance (although the studies usually involve “simple” jobs where aggregate measures of performance are available, which is where piece rates should be most effective). In one study, Lazear (1996) saw productivity rising by 44% (and wages by 10%) in a change from salary to piece rates, with a half of the productivity gain due to worker selection effects. Research shows that pay for performance increases performance when the task at hand is more repetitive, and reduces performance when the task at hand requires more creative thinking.[4] Paarsch and Shearer (1996) also find evidence supportive of incentive and productivity effects from piece rates, as do Banker, Lee, and Potter (1996), although the latter do not distinguish between incentive and worker selection effects. Fernie and Metcalf (1996) find that top British jockeys perform significantly better when offered percentage of prize money for winning races compared to being on fixed retainers. McMillan, Whalley and Zhu (1989) and Groves et al. (1994) look at Chinese agricultural and industrial data respectively and find significant incentive effects. Kahn and Sherer (1990) find that better evaluations of white-collar office workers were achieved by those employees who had a steeper relation between evaluations and pay. Nikkinen and Sahlstrom (2004) find empirical evidence that agency theory can be used, at least to some extent, to explain financial audit fees internationally. There is very little correlation between performance pay of CEO's and the success of the companies they manage.[5] [edit]Contract design Milgrom and Roberts (1992) identify four principles of contract design: When perfect information is not available, Holmstrom (1979) developed the Informativeness Principle to solve this problem. This essentially states that any measure of performance that (on the margin) reveals information about the effort level chosen by the agent should be included in the compensation contract. This includes, for example, Relative Performance Evaluation – measurement relative to other, similar agents, so as to filter out some common background noise factors, such as fluctuations in demand. By removing some exogenous sources of randomness in the agent’s income, a greater proportion of the fluctuation in the agent’s income falls under his control, increasing his ability to bear risk. If taken advantage of, by greater use of piece rates, this should improve incentives. (In terms of the simple linear model below, this means that increasing x produces an increase in b.) However, setting incentives as intense as possible is not necessarily optimal from the point of view of the employer. The Incentive-Intensity Principle states that the optimal intensity of incentives depends on four factors: the incremental profits created by additional effort, the precision with which the desired activities are assessed, the agent’s risk tolerance, and the agent’s responsiveness to incentives. According to Prendergast (1999, 8), “the primary constraint on [performance-related pay] is that [its] provision imposes additional risk on workers…” A typical result of the early principal–agent literature was that piece rates tend to 100% (of the compensation package) as the worker becomes more able to handle risk, as this ensures that workers fully internalize the consequences of their costly actions. In incentive terms, where we conceive of workers as self-interested rational individuals who provide costly effort (in the most general sense of the worker’s input to the firm’s production function), the more compensation varies with effort, the better the incentives for the worker to produce. The third principle – the Monitoring Intensity Principle – is complementary to the second, in that situations in which the optimal intensity of incentives is high corresponds highly to situations in which the optimal level of monitoring is also high. Thus employers effectively choose from a “menu” of monitoring/incentive intensities. This is because monitoring is a costly means of reducing the variance of employee performance, which makes more difference to profits in the kinds of situations where it is also optimal to make incentives intense. The fourth principle is the Equal Compensation Principle, which essentially states that activities equally valued by the employer should be equally valuable (in terms of compensation, including non-financial aspects such as pleasantness of the workplace) to the employee. This relates to the problem that employees may be engaged in several activities, and if some of these are not monitored or are monitored less heavily, these will be neglected, as activities with higher marginal returns to the employee are favoured. This can be thought of as a kind of “disintermediation” – targeting certain measurable variables may cause others to suffer. For example, teachers being rewarded by test scores of their students are likely to tend more towards teaching ‘for the test’, and de-emphasise less relevant but perhaps equally or more important aspects of education; while AT&T’s practice at one time of paying programmers by the number of lines of code written resulted in programs that were longer than necessary – i.e., program efficiency suffering (Prendergast 1999, 21). Following Holmstom and Milgrom (1990) and Baker (1992), this has become known as “multi-tasking” (where a subset of relevant tasks is rewarded, non-rewarded tasks suffer relative neglect). Because of this, the more difficult it is to completely specify and measure the variables on which reward is to be conditioned, the less likely that performance-related pay will be used: “in essence, complex jobs will typically not be evaluated through explicit contracts.” (Prendergast 1999, 9). Where explicit measures are used, they are more likely to be some kind of aggregate measure, for example, baseball and American Football players are rarely rewarded on the many specific measures available (e.g., number of home runs), but frequently receive bonuses for aggregate performance measures such as Most Valuable Player. The alternative to objective measures is subjective performance evaluation, typically by supervisors. However, there is here a similar effect to “multi-tasking”, as workers shift effort from that subset of tasks which they consider useful and constructive, to that subset which they think gives the greatest appearance of being useful and constructive, and more generally to try to curry personal favour with supervisors. (One can interpret this as a destruction of organizational social capital – workers identifying with, and actively working for the benefit of, the firm – in favour of the creation of personal social capital – the individual-level social relations which enable workers to get ahead (“networking”).)

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