BORIS Theses

BORIS Theses
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Motivation through information: Three field experiments

Steffen, Angela (2019). Motivation through information: Three field experiments. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

19steffen_a.pdf - Thesis
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Traditional economic theory promotes tangible rewards and punishments as sufficient drivers of human motivation. Behavioral research, however, shows that humans often depart from the neoclassical assumptions that underlie many incentive programs. Individuals have, for example, limited cognitive resources to make choices that are in their best long-term interests, and these interests are not always of a purely selfish nature. Such insights have important implications for today's management of private and public organizations. Monetary incentives and control mechanisms may backfire by crowding out intrinsic motivation, while merely symbolic or informational interventions can provide effective alternatives. Behavioral economics integrates psychological factors into traditional economic theory to more fully understand human behavior. It thereby suggests new tools to leverage intrinsic motivators and to guide human decision-making in various contexts. At the core of this research is the idea of motivating individuals through information that does not entail direct monetary consequences. The age of big data and telecommunication technology opens up new avenues for such approaches, as information is increasingly readily available and easy to share. This thesis consists of three studies addressing the question of how organizations can use personal messages to motivate behavioral change. In this context, each study highlights motivation in a different domain. Essay 1 investigates the impact of information at work. Essay 2 deals with behavior in the environmental context, and Essay 3 addresses behavioral change in the social realm. The common ground of all three essays is the exploration of individual, real-world behavior using field experiments. This methodological approach has the advantage of capturing controlled data in a normally occurring environment. The present field experiments were conducted with three practice partners: a commercial company (Essay 1), a non-profit association (Essay 2), and a charitable organization (Essay 3). These different partner organizations permit an inside view into the diversity of contemporary challenges that behavioral research may help tackle. Essay 1 - a joint work with Frauke von Bieberstein - explores the effect of comparative performance information that is more timely and specific than traditional performance feedback. By providing real-time performance benchmarks at work, this intervention aims to motivate sales employees of a railway catering company in Switzerland. We find that real-time feedback can significantly increase sales revenues, if it contains information about the average recent performance of co-workers. This effect seems to be persistent over time and is clearly driven by employees at intermediate levels of performance. Workers at the top and at the bottom of the productivity distribution, in contrast, show no significant reactions. In light of the increasing use of timely, 360-degree feedback in practice, our results emphasize the value of real-time feedback for lasting improvements in work productivity. Essay 2 - a joint work with Andrea Essl and Martin Staehle - examines whether and how reminder messages can motivate consumers to take up environmentally friendly habits. This study was conducted with an agricultural association that encourages their customers to return plastic packaging for reuse. Essay 2 demonstrates the beneficial impact of reminders on the return rate of plastic bags, by making this desired behavior more salient. The positive effect does not fade when multiple reminders are applied and also persists, to some extent, beyond the intervention period. The results also provide new evidence for the action-closeness effect of reminders. Reminders are significantly more effective when they catch customers' attention in direct proximity to the recycling decision. This finding indicates how reminder messages may be more successfully implemented in practice. Essay 3 - a joint work with Zita Spillmann - investigates how performance-related information can increase volunteers' prosocial engagement in a German aid organization. More specifically, this study examines whether information about the average workload per volunteer can motivate less-active members to engage more actively in charity. Against the expected conformity effect, we find that this intervention has no significant impact on the number of voluntary service hours. Neither volunteers at above-average levels of engagement, nor volunteers with a below-average commitment, show significant reactions. Additional analyses highlight the risk that already-active volunteers become even more overburdened when the organization intensifies internal communication with its volunteers.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 23 May 2019
Subjects: 100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 330 Economics
600 Technology > 650 Management & public relations
Institute / Center: 03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Department of Business Management > Institute of Organization and Human Resource Management
Depositing User: Hammer Igor
Date Deposited: 29 May 2020 13:17
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2020 14:20

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