Behavioral and personnel economics

Articles in behavioral economics discuss the emotional and cognitive factors that influence the decisions of actors, in particular employers and employees. Personnel economics analyzes the internal organizational strategy of the firm and the human resource management practices chosen to pursue that strategy.

  • Sports at the vanguard of labor market policy

    Lessons from sports can allow managers to develop better policies at “normal” workplaces

    Kerry L. Papps, October 2020
    Economic theory has many predictions regarding how workers should be paid and how workplaces should be organized. However, economists’ attempts to test these in the real world have been hampered by a lack of consistent information about workers’ productivity levels. Professional sports offer a potential solution, since the performance of individual sportspeople is easily observed and yet many of the same problems faced by managers in workplaces still apply. In many ways, sportspeople may be less atypical of the modern workforce than farm laborers, doctors, or other groups of workers that are often scrutinized by economists.
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  • Who benefits from firm-sponsored training? Updated

    Firm-sponsored training benefits both workers and firms through higher wages, increased productivity and innovation

    Benoit Dostie, July 2020
    Workers participating in firm-sponsored training receive higher wages as a result. But given that firms pay the majority of costs for training, shouldn’t they also benefit? Empirical evidence shows that this is in fact the case. Firm-sponsored training leads to higher productivity levels and increased innovation, both of which benefit the firm. Training can also be complementary to, and enhance, other types of firm investment, particularly in physical capital, such as information and communication technology (ICT), and in organizational capital, such as the implementation of high-performance workplace practices.
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  • Bonuses and performance evaluations

    Individual bonuses do not always raise performance; it depends on the characteristics of the job

    Dirk Sliwka, July 2020
    Economists have for a long time argued that performance-based bonuses raise performance. Indeed, many firms use bonuses tied to individual performance to motivate their employees. However, there has been heated debate among human resources professionals recently, and some firms have moved away from individual performance bonuses toward fixed wages only or collective performance incentive schemes such as profit-sharing or team incentives. The appropriate approach depends on each company's unique situation, and managers need to realize that individual bonus plans are not a panacea to motivate employees.
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  • Are workers motivated by the greater good? Updated

    Workers care about employers’ social causes, but the public sector does not attract particularly motivated employees

    Mirco Tonin, July 2020
    Employees are more willing to work and put effort in for an employer that genuinely promotes the greater good. Some are also willing to give up part of their compensation to contribute to a social cause they share. Being able to attract a motivated workforce is particularly important for the public sector, where performance is usually more difficult to measure, but this goal remains elusive. Paying people more or underlining the career opportunities (as opposed to the social aspects) associated with public sector jobs is instrumental in attracting a more productive workforce, while a proper selection process may mitigate the negative impact on intrinsic motivation.
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  • Internal hiring or external recruitment? Updated

    The efficacy of hiring strategies hinges on a firm’s simultaneous use of other policies

    Jed DeVaro, May 2020
    When an employer fills a vacancy with one of its own workers (through promotion or horizontal transfer), it forgoes the opportunity to fill the position with a new hire from outside the firm. Although firms use both internal and external hiring methods, they frequently favor insiders. Internal and external hires differ in observable characteristics (such as skill levels), as do the employers making the hiring decisions. Understanding those differences helps employers design and manage hiring policies that are appropriate for their organizations.
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  • Equal pay legislation and the gender wage gap Updated

    Despite major efforts at equal pay legislation, gender pay inequality still exists—how can this be put right?

    Solomon W. Polachek, October 2019
    Despite equal pay legislation dating back 50 years, American women still earn 18% less than their male counterparts. In the UK, with its Equal Pay Act of 1970, and France, which legislated in 1972, the gap is 17% and 10% respectively, and in Australia it remains around 14%. Interestingly, the gender pay gap is relatively small for the young but increases as men and women grow older. Similarly, it is large when comparing married men and women, but smaller for singles. Just what can explain these wage patterns? And what can governments do to speed up wage convergence to close the gender pay gap? Clearly, the gender pay gap continues to be an important policy issue.
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  • Sexual orientation and labor market outcomes Updated

    Sexual orientation seems to affect job access and satisfaction, earning prospects, and interaction with colleagues

    Nick Drydakis, July 2019
    Studies from countries with laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation suggest that gay and lesbian employees report more incidents of harassment and are more likely to report experiencing unfair treatment in the labor market than are heterosexual employees. Both gay men and lesbians tend to be less satisfied with their jobs than their heterosexual counterparts. Gay men are found to earn less than comparably skilled and experienced heterosexual men. For lesbians, the patterns are ambiguous: in some countries they have been found to earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, while in others they earn the same or more.
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  • Measuring individual risk preferences

    Incentivized measures are considered to be the gold standard in measuring individuals’ risk preferences, but is that correct?

    Catherine C. Eckel, June 2019
    Risk aversion is an important factor in many settings, including individual decisions about investment or occupational choice, and government choices about policies affecting environmental, industrial, or health risks. Risk preferences are measured using surveys or incentivized games with real consequences. Reviewing the different approaches to measuring individual risk aversion shows that the best approach will depend on the question being asked and the study's target population. In particular, economists’ gold standard of incentivized games may not be superior to surveys in all settings.
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  • Gender diversity in teams Updated

    Greater representation of women may better represent women’s preferences but may not help economic performance

    Ghazala Azmat, May 2019
    Women's representation on corporate boards, political committees, and other decision-making teams is increasing, this is in part because of legal mandates. Evidence on team dynamics and gender differences in preferences (for example, risk-taking behavior, taste for competition, prosocial behavior) shows how gender composition influences group decision-making and subsequent performance. This works through channels such as investment decisions, internal management, corporate governance, and social responsibility.
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  • Market competition and executive pay Updated

    Increased competition affects the pay incentives firms provide to their managers and may also affect overall pay structures

    Priscila Ferreira, February 2019
    Deregulation and managerial compensation are two important topics on the political and academic agenda. The former has been a significant policy recommendation in light of the negative effects associated with overly restrictive regulation on markets and the economy. The latter relates to the sharp increase in top executives’ pay and the nature of the link between pay and performance. To the extent that product-market competition can affect the incentive schemes offered by firms to their executives, the analysis of the effects of competition on the structure of compensation can be informative for policy purposes.
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