Job transfers and incentives in complex organizations: Thwarting the ratchet effect

Barry W. Ickes, Larry Samuelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Many complex organizations, such as planned Soviet enterprises and the U.S. military, routinely transfer employees between jobs. Since this sacrifices job-specific human capital, the practice is puzzling. This article shows that regular job transfers may be part of an optimal incentive scheme in organizations plagued by the ratchet effect. The ratchet effect arises when an employer is uncertain as to the productivity of the various positions or jobs within an organization. Workers in highly productive jobs then have an incentive to disguise the productivity of their jobs by expending low effort and producing low output. This avoids having the employer construct more demanding remuneration schemes once the high productivity of a job becomes known. Job transfers break the link between current performance and future incentive schemes, and hence remove the incentive-stifling implications of the ratchet effect. This article examines the tradeoff between providing more effective incentives via job transfers and the accompanying sacrifice of job-specific human capital, establishes conditions under which job transfers are optimal, and develops comparative static results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-286
Number of pages12
JournalRAND Journal of Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Job transfers and incentives in complex organizations: Thwarting the ratchet effect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this