Sloppy Work, Lies and Theft

A Novel Experimental Design to Study Counterproductive Behaviour

  • Michéle Belot
  • Marina Schröder
Schlagworte: Counterproductive behaviour, compensation, experiment, competition, piece rate, …fixed pay, JEL: C91, J24, J30, M52


We propose a novel experimental design to study counterproductive behaviour in a principal agent setting. The design allows us to study and derive clean measures of different forms of counterproductive behaviour in a controlled but non obtrusive manner. We ask participants to complete a specific task (identify euro coins) and report their output. Participants can engage in various forms of counterproductive behaviour, none of them being offered to them explicitly. They can make mistakes in the identification task, lie in their report or even steal coins. We present an application of the design to study the effects of different pay schemes (competition, fixed pay and piece rate) on counterproductive behaviour. On average counterproductive behaviour amounts to 10 percent of the average productivity, almost all arising through mistakes and overreporting of output. We find essentially no evidence of theft. Moreover, we find that both productive and counterproductive behaviour are significantly higher under competition than under the two other pay schemes.