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Respect and relational contracts

Tor Eriksson () and Marie Claire Villeval ()

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2012, vol. 81, issue 1, 286-298

Abstract: Assuming that people care not only about what others do but also on what others think, we study respect in a labor market context where the length of the employment relationship is endogenous. In our three-stage gift-exchange experiment, the employer can express respect by giving the employee costly symbolic rewards after observing his level of effort. We study whether symbolic rewards are used by the employers mainly to praise employees or as a coordination device to build relational contracts by manipulating the balance between labor demand and supply in the market. We find that a high proportion of long-term relationships have been initiated by the assignment of symbolic rewards. However, the assignment of symbolic rewards decreases when it becomes clear that the relationship is durable, suggesting that employers mainly use symbolic rewards as a coordination device to initiate relational contracts. Compared to the balanced market condition, assigning symbolic rewards in initial relationships is less likely when there is excess demand in the market and more likely when there is excess supply, i.e., when the relationship is more valuable. Receiving symbolic rewards increases the employees’ likelihood of accepting to continue the relationship with the same employer. It also motivates them to increase their effort further but only when the market is balanced. Overall, the ability to assign symbolic rewards does not give rise to higher profits because it is associated with lower rents offered to the employees on average, leading to lower effort levels.

Keywords: Respect; Symbolic rewards; Coordination; Signaling; Labor market; Experiment (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C91 J32 J64 M52 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
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