Individual performance in a piecework setting: an analysis of employee differences

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Incentive pay systems are of interest to both researchers and practitioners as a way to improve employee productivity and efficiency. Past research has considered the design of incentive systems, the effects of systems and costs/benefits to employers. Little consideration has been given to another issue: what characteristics are associated with high incentive pay performers? Research that has considered the effect of personal variables on incentive-rewarded performance has failed to provide a theoretical framework in which findings could be considered, and thus lacks the underlying unity and cohesiveness that a theoretical model could provide.

In order to investigate the relationship between an individual's characteristics and incentive-rewarded performance, a questionnaire was administered to 453 employees of a major garment manufacturer. Employees responded to questions about their background, their interests and their attitudes toward their work. Performance was measured using employee production data from a nine week period collected by the company.

This study proposed and investigated a theoretical model of piecework performance which postulates that motivation, within a piecework setting, is a function of the valences of pay and workgroup affiliation. This model proposes that this measure of motivation, in combination with an ability measure, is related to performance.

Quantitative results indicate that this model is useful in understanding piecework performance. Both the valence of pay and ability were found to be predictive of performance. Moreover, the valence of pay was related to age and Protestant ethic while previous findings that employees high in affiliation need were susceptible to rate restriction were not supported. Findings from this study hold promise for more effective selection of piecework employees and add insight into the use of incentive pay to increase individual performance.