Driven by Social Comparisons: How Feedback about Coworkers’ Effort Influences Individual Productivity

36 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2011

See all articles by Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Date Written: February 4, 2011

Abstract

Drawing on theoretical insights from research on social comparison processes, this article explores how managers can use performance feedback to sustain employees’ motivation and performance in organizations. Using a field experiment at a Japanese bank, we investigate the effects of valence (positive versus negative), type (direct versus indirect), and timing of feedback (one-shot versus persistent) on employee productivity. Our results show that direct negative feedback (e.g., an employee learns her performance falls in the bottom of her group) leads to improvements in employees’ performance, while direct positive feedback does not significantly impact performance. Furthermore, indirect negative feedback (i.e., the employee learns she is not in the bottom of her group) worsens productivity while indirect positive feedback (i.e., the employee learns she is not in the top of her group) does not affect it. Finally, both persistently positive and persistently negative feedback lead to improvements in employees’ performance. Together, our findings offer insight into the role of performance feedback in motivating productivity in repetitive tasks.

Keywords: Feedback, Framing, Learning, Motivation, Persistence, Productivity, Social comparison

Suggested Citation

Gino, Francesca and Staats, Bradley R., Driven by Social Comparisons: How Feedback about Coworkers’ Effort Influences Individual Productivity (February 4, 2011). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 11-078. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1755051 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1755051

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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