Does Monitoring Decrease Work Effort? The Complementarity Between Agency and Crowding-Out Theories
Agency theory assumes that tighter monitoring by the principal should motivate the agent to raise his effort level whereas the “crowding-out” literature suggests that it may reduce the overall work effort. These two assertions are not necessarily contradictory provided that the nature of the employment relationship is taken into account (Frey, 1993). Based upon a real-task laboratory experiment, our results show that principals are not trustful enough to refrain from monitoring the agents, and most of the agents react to the disciplining effect of monitoring. However we find also some evidence that intrinsic motivation is crowded out when monitoring is above a certain threshold. We identify that both interpersonal principal/agent links and concerns for the distribution of output payoff are important for the emergence of this crowding out effect.
principal-agent theory; monitoring; crowding-out; motivation; real effort experiment
Agency theory assumes that tighter monitoring by the principal should motivate the agent to raise his effort level. In contrast, the “crowding-out” literature suggests that tighter monitoring may reduce the overall work effort. These two assertions are not necessarily contradictory provided that the nature of the employment relationship is taken into account (Frey 1993). This paper reports on the results of a real-effort laboratory experiment designed to test the relative importance of the disciplining effect and the crowding-out effect of monitoring. We find no strong support for the crowding-out hypothesis and we show that the disciplining effect of monitoring dominates in abstract one-shot relationships as well as in somewhat more interpersonal multi-shot relationships. Principals are not trustful enough to refrain from using the monitoring opportunity and most agents react to a decrease in the monitoring intensity by decreasing their effort.
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