The effects of tournament incentive contracts and relative performance feedback on task effort, learning effort, and performance

Date created: 
Tournament schemes
Learning effort
Task effort
Relative performance feedback

When employees work hard, they exert more effort on job tasks (task effort); and when employees learn hard, they exert more effort to learn (learning effort). Task effort and learning effort are important causes of improved performance. This thesis investigates whether the use of tournament schemes motivates employees to work harder and learn harder, and also whether providing performance feedback in tournament schemes has any impact on task effort and learning effort.This thesis has three goals. The first is to investigate the relationship between incentives, learning, and performance. The literature on whether learning interacts with incentives to improve performance is inconclusive, because no prior research has provided a good test of this question (as noted by Bonner and Sprinkle 2002; Bailey and Fessler 2011; Bailey et al. 1998, and as remains true today). The second goal is to investigate the motivational effect of tournament schemes on effort. The literature suggests that effort is difficult to observe directly or to quantify; as a result, it is hard to verify whether tournament schemes motivate employees’ task effort and learning effort. This thesis uses an eye-tracking device to measure effort, by measuring eye position, eye movements, and pupil size. The third goal is to investigate the effect of performance feedback on task effort, learning effort, and performance in the tournament setting.I posit and show evidence that both task effort and learning effort are higher in multiple-winner schemes than in either winner-takes-all schemes or piece-rate schemes. Task effort is directly positively associated with performance, while learning effort causes learning transfer to a job task, also yielding a positive effect on performance. I find that providing relative performance feedback in the tournament setting has no significant impact on task effort or learning effort.These findings have practical value for many corporations, which are constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of their incentive schemes and reporting systems while investing in learning initiatives to help employees transfer learned skills to job tasks. Organizations may use the insights of this thesis to help them design learning initiatives and motivate employees to transfer learned skills to their job tasks.

Document type: 
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Video 1 A real participant’s translating behaviour in the first work session (task effort time spent on the task and average pup
Video 2 A real participant’s learning behaviour in the learning session (learning effort leftward eye saccades and the time spen
Video 3 A real participant’s practice behaviour in applyingtransferring learning (learning transfer whether the button is clicke
Video 4 A real participant’s behaviour in applyingtransferring learning in the second work session (learning transfer whether th
Video 5 A quick run through the experimental procedure (muted)
Johnny Jermias
Yasheng Chen
Beedie School of Business Faculty: Segal Graduate School
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.