Managing Discretion: How Real-time Feedback Influences Workers’ Easy Task Selection

52 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2022

See all articles by Farah Arshad

Farah Arshad

Vrije University Amsterdam

Bart Dierynck

Tilburg University

Maria Ibanez

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management; Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: December 9, 2022


Which tasks are prioritized to be completed the next is a key driver of operational performance. Yet, these decisions are often in the hands of those executing the tasks. Notably, individuals show an easy task selection (ETS) tendency—choosing easier tasks while postponing more difficult ones. Creating the conditions that reduce ETS (or increase it, if so desired) is, therefore, a potential way to improve performance. With technologies increasingly facilitating real-time feedback, we propose that managers can use such feedback to influence ETS. Using behavioral laboratory experiments, we find that real-time feedback increases ETS. We identify an approach for managers to mitigate that effect: task-tracking, whereby the types of tasks completed so far are displayed to the worker to aid their tracking. Planning what tasks to do is not more effective than task-tracking alone, but has the added benefit of improving work quality. However, adding system recommendations based on workers’ plans is only effective for a subgroup and lowers perceived freedom of choice, even when they still had complete actual freedom. Understanding how these aspects of feedback design shape task selection can help managers improve exercised discretion and queue management.

Keywords: Task sequencing, task prioritization, discretion, real-time feedback, behavioral operations

Suggested Citation

Arshad, Farah and Dierynck, Bart and Ibanez, Maria, Managing Discretion: How Real-time Feedback Influences Workers’ Easy Task Selection (December 9, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Farah Arshad

Vrije University Amsterdam ( email )


Bart Dierynck

Tilburg University ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, DC Noord-Brabant 5000 LE

Maria Ibanez (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States


Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

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

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