Effects of peer comparisons on low-promotability tasks: Evidence from a university field experiment
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2018.12.005
Governance—the way rules are set and implemented—in many institutions is sustained through the service of groups of individuals, performing low-promotability tasks. For instance, the success of not-for-profit professional societies, civic organizations, and public universities depends on the willingness of members and employees to serve in governance. Typically service is requested by annual calls to serve. We implement and analyze a field experiment at a large public university using a randomized experimental design, to investigate whether responses to calls to serve are affected by revealing a department's service rankings among its peer departments. We find that revealing a service ranking in the lowest quartile leads to significantly higher response rates than disclosing a median and higher-than-median ranking. Second, beyond informing department heads of their departments’ service rank, directly informing individual faculty members does not have an additional effect on response rates. Third, we show that the treatment effects in the lowest serving quartile are driven by female faculty responses, even though female faculty members were no more likely than their male peers to respond to serve before the experiment. If taking on such tasks is detrimental to promotion, while important for the overall institution, this has implications for the faculty careers of women and men. We discuss potential mechanisms behind the results; formally testing these mechanisms is an area for future research.