“Intentions for Doing Good Matter for Doing Well: The (Negative) Signaling Value of Prosocial Incentives,” Stephan Meier, Columbia University
BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES WORKSHOP
Abstract: Prosocial incentives and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives are seen by many firms as an effective way to motivate workers. Recent empirical results seem to support the expectation that prosocial incentive, e.g. in the form of a charitable donations by the firm, can increase effort and motivation – sometimes even better than monetary incentives. We argue that the benefits crucially depend on the perceived intention of the firm. Workers use prosocial incentives as a signal about the firm’s type and if used instrumentally in order to profit the firm, they can backfire. We show in an experiment in collaboration with an Italian firm, that monetary and prosocial incentives work very differently. While monetary incentives used instrumentally increase effort, instrumental prosocial incentives backfire. This is especially true for non-prosocially-motivated workers who do not care about the prosocial cause but use prosocial incentives only as a signal about the firm. The results contribute to the understanding of the limits of prosocial incentives by focusing on their signaling value to the agent about the principal’s type.
Stephan Meier is a Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Zurich, was previously a senior economist at the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision-Making at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and taught courses on strategic interactions and economic policy at Harvard University and the University of Zurich. His research interest is in behavioral strategy. He investigates the impact of psychology and economics on human decision-making and its implications for public policy and firms’ strategy. Current research topics include how non-selfish behavior affect organizations or the effect of borrower’s decision-making on financial institutions’ strategy. His work has been published in the leading academic journals including the American Economic Review and Management Science, and has been profiled by the press such as The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Neue Zuercher Zeitung.