We investigate whether giving workers autonomy through delegation of contract choice intrinsically motivates effort. In a novel laboratory experiment that controls for contract preferences and outcomes, principals can either choose the contract under which agents work on a real-effort task, or delegate the contract choice to the agents. We evaluate whether agents exert higher effort when they are allowed to choose the contract versus when the contract is imposed on them. We find no difference between the two conditions, even after controlling for baseline ability and for locus of control. Because our design excludes the possibility that preferences play a role, and because workers engaged in a real-effort task, this result casts doubt on an intrinsic link between the autonomy granted through delegation and the motivation of employees in the workplace. Our results do not deny, however, the possible instrumental benefits of autonomy (which did not play a role in our design) and their potentially powerful impact on motivation.
For helpful comments, the authors thank Lise Vesterlund, Alex Imas, and participants of the University of Pittsburgh Experimental Economics Seminar Series, the 2014 NYU-CESS Experimental Political Science Conference poster session, and the 2014 Rady Spring School in Behavioral Economics. We are grateful to J. Forrest Williams for sharing with us z-Tree code upon which we built our version of the slider task.
Chaudhry, S. and Klinowski, D. (2016), "Enhancing Autonomy to Motivate Effort: An Experiment on the Delegation of Contract Choice", Experiments in Organizational Economics (Research in Experimental Economics, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 141-157. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0193-230620160000019005Download as .RIS
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