The Impact of Management Practices on Employee Productivity: A Field Experiment with Airline Captains

76 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2019 Last revised: 4 Jul 2021

See all articles by Greer Gosnell

Greer Gosnell

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Date Written: February 2019

Abstract

Increasing evidence indicates the importance of management in determining firms’ productivity. Yet, causal evidence regarding the effectiveness of management practices is scarce, especially for high-skilled workers in the developed world. In an eight-month field experiment measuring the productivity of captains in the commercial aviation sector, we test four distinct management practices: (i) performance monitoring; (ii) performance feedback; (iii) target setting; and (iv) pro-social incentives. We find that these management practices—particularly performance monitoring and target setting—significantly increase captains’ productivity with respect to the targeted fuel-saving dimensions. We identify positive spillovers of the tested management practices on job satisfaction and carbon dioxide emissions, and captains overwhelmingly express desire for deeper managerial engagement. Both the implementation and the results of the study reveal an uncharted opportunity for management researchers to delve into the black box of firms and rigorously examine the determinants of productivity amongst skilled labor.

Suggested Citation

Gosnell, Greer and List, John A. and Metcalfe, Robert, The Impact of Management Practices on Employee Productivity: A Field Experiment with Airline Captains (February 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25620, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3346266

Greer Gosnell (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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