Discussion paper

DP4431 Relative and Absolute Incentives: Evidence on Worker Productivity

We use personnel data to compare worker productivity under a relative incentive scheme, where worker pay is negatively related to the average productivity of co-workers, with productivity under piece rates ? where pay is based on individual productivity alone. We find that for the average worker, productivity is at least 50% higher under piece rates. We show this is because workers partially internalize the negative externality they impose on others under the relative incentive scheme and do so to a greater extent when they work alongside their close friends. The results illustrate the importance of understanding how workers behave in the presence of externalities when designing incentive schemes.


Bandiera, O, I Barankay and I Rasul (eds) (2004), “DP4431 Relative and Absolute Incentives: Evidence on Worker Productivity”, CEPR Press Discussion Paper No. 4431. https://cepr.org/publications/dp4431