David Kirkpatrick

August 20, 2010

Measuring worker productivity — here comes the science

Interesting research on worker productivity, particularly on the question of why workers in low-paying, low supervision jobs don’t simply complete the bare minimum of work to get by.

From the link:

One line of thinking focuses on the relationship between the workers and their employer, which can be influenced by contracts set out in writing and by personal relationships between workers and their managers.

That suggests that one way for an employer to improve productivity would be to perfect its employment contracts.

Another line of thinking is that peer pressure plays an important role. The people around you may affect the way you work. For example, good workers, leading by example, might raise the quality of everybody’s work. On the other hand, bad apples may make the good ones rotten.

But working out which of these effects wins out is hard. Peer pressure is hard to quantify and the various results in this area are somewhat contradictory, suggesting that they may depend on the environment too

But a new tool is emerging that can help, according to John Horton at Harvard University who says the recent development of online marketplaces, in which people can buy and sell services over the web, provides a fascinating laboratory in which to test these ideas.

Today he publishes the results of a set of experiments that reveal some of the ways in which peer pressure may influence productivity.

Hit the link up in the intro graf for the results of his study. One interesting aspect is Horton used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service as his “laboratory.”

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