This paper reports the results from a controlled field experiment designed to investigate the causal effect of unannounced, public recognition on employee performance. We hired more than 300 employees to work on a three-hour data-entry task. In a random sample of work groups, workers unexpectedly received recognition after two hours of work. We find that recognition increases subsequent performance substantially, and particularly so when recognition is exclusively provided to the best performers. Remarkably, workers who did not receive recognition are mainly responsible for this performance increase. Our results are consistent with workers having a preference for conformity and being reciprocal at the same time.
Number of correct entries per minute.
Providing public recognition has a positive effect on subsequent performance of workers. When all employees in a work group receive recognition, subsequent performance increases by about 5.2%. When public recognition is more exclusive (3 of 8 workers receive recognition), the estimated effect is larger, at about a 7.3% increase. Employees who do not receive the recognition are primarily responsible for the performance increase, and their performance rises by more than 10%. Meanwhile, recipients of the recognition increase performance by only 3.3%. When recognition is even more exclusive (1 of 8 workers receive recognition), the average treatment effect is slightly weaker, at about 5.6%, with non-recipients increasing performance by about 6.6%, while recipients' response is close to zero.