Social Undermining as a Dark Side of Symbolic Awards: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design
77 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2019 Last revised: 6 Apr 2022
Date Written: December 20, 2018
In this study, we examine the effects of a non-monetary symbolic award on winners, losers, and their peers. Using a regression discontinuity design, we examine ex-post performance differences between those who barely won a symbolic performance award and those who came just short of winning the award in a large insurance company. Our findings show that awarded workers performed worse than their non-awarded counterparts, and worse performance was more severe in more competitive teams. Building on these findings, we explore potential mechanisms using an incentivized real-effort experiment. The experiment reveals that award winners’ worse relative performance post-award was driven by social undermining in the form of deliberate sabotage by coworkers, rather than award winners’ own behavioral changes due to negative motivational effects.
Keywords: Symbolic award, Social undermining, Spillover effect
JEL Classification: M52, J24
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation