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Methodological and conceptual issues in studying effort-reward fit

Jonas W.B. Lang (Human Resource Management and Organizational Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium) (Business School, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
Sander Van Hoeck (Human Resource Management and Organizational Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
J. Malte Runge (Human Resource Management and Organizational Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 5 November 2020

Issue publication date: 24 June 2022




Research on effort-reward “imbalance” (ERI) has gained popularity in the occupational health literature, and authors typically use effort-reward ratios (ERRs) to study this phenomenon. This article provides a methodological and theoretical critique of this literature and suggestions on how future research can better study joint effects of efforts and reward.


The authors conducted a simulation study, analyzed panel data and surveyed the literature on the theoretical and methodological basis of the “imbalance” concept.


The simulation study indicates that under many conditions the ERR captures main effects of effort and reward and that effects also depend on the scaling of the variables. The panel data showed that when main effects and the interactions of effort and reward are entered simultaneously in a regression predicting mental and physical health, the significant effect of the ERRs disappears. The literature review reveals that psychological theories include more elaborate theoretical ideas on joint effects of effort and reward.

Research limitations/implications

The results suggest that moderated multiple regression analyses are better suited to detect a misfit between effort and reward than ERRs. The authors also suggest to use the term effort-reward fit in future research.


Methodologically and conceptually the authors showed that the ERR is not an appropriate approach because it confuses main effects with interaction effects. Furthermore, the concept of ERI is better substituted by a broader conceptualization of effort-reward fit that can be integrated with the existing literature on person-environment fit. Recommendations for future research are provided.



The authors thank special issue editor Ben J. Searle and two anonymous reviewers for helpful and constructive comments to earlier versions of this article. Jonas W.B. Lang and Sander Van Hoeck were supported by a grant from the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (G019217N) awarded to Jonas W.B. Lang. The LISS panel data were collected by CentERdata (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) through its MESS project funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.


Lang, J.W.B., Van Hoeck, S. and Runge, J.M. (2022), "Methodological and conceptual issues in studying effort-reward fit", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 498-512.



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