Can Higher Bonuses Lead to Less Effort? Incentive Reversal in Teams


Klor, Esteban F, et al. 2014. “Can Higher Bonuses Lead to Less Effort? Incentive Reversal in Teams”. Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organization 97 (1) : 72-83.
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Conventional wisdom suggests that a global increase in monetary rewards should induce agents to exert higher effort. In this paper we demonstrate that this may not hold in team settings. In the context of sequential team production with positive externalities between agents, incentive reversal might occur, i.e., an increase in monetary rewards (either because bonuses increase or effort costs decrease) may induce agents that are fully rational, self-centered money maximizers to exert lower effort in the completion of a joint task. Incentive reversal happens when increasing one agent’s individual rewards alters her best-response function and, as a result, removes other agents’ incentives to exert effort as their contributions are no longer required to incentivize the first agent. Herein we discuss this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon and report on two experiments that provide supportive evidence.

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Last updated on 10/28/2015