Unintended consequences of performance incentives: impacts of framing and structure on performance and cheating

Ethics and Behavior 31 (7):498-515 (2021)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Setting specific, challenging goals motivates employees to exert greater effort in their jobs. However, goal-setting may have unintended consequences of also motivating unethical behavior. The present study explores these consequences in the context of other features of goal-setting in organizations, how goals are framed and rewarded, to determine the tradeoff between performance and ethical behavior. Undergraduate students were incentivized to complete math problems using different outcome frames and incentive structures and were also provided an opportunity to cheat. Findings demonstrate that when goals rewarded with piece-rate incentives are framed as a loss, performance increased, though cheating behavior increased as well.

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