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

See all articles by Teng Li

Teng Li

Sun Yat-sen University

Runjing Lu

University of Alberta

Date Written: December 20, 2018

Abstract

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

Li, Teng and Lu, Runjing, Social Undermining as a Dark Side of Symbolic Awards: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design (December 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3304436 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3304436

Teng Li

Sun Yat-sen University ( email )

135, Xingang Xi Road
Guangzhou, Guangdong 510275
China

Runjing Lu (Contact Author)

University of Alberta ( email )

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