Wednesday, October 5, 2016
How much of your wages would you be willing to give up for more control over what days and how much you work? In a new working paper, Alexandre Mas and Amanda Pallais, “Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements,” NBER Working Paper No. 22708 (Sept. 2016), the authors conducted a field experiment to find out. Here’s the abstract:
We use a field experiment to study how workers value alternative work arrangements. During the application process to staff a national call center, we randomly offered applicants choices between traditional M-F 9 am – 5 pm office positions and alternatives. These alternatives include flexible scheduling, working from home, and positions that give the employer discretion over scheduling. We randomly varied the wage difference between the traditional option and the alternative, allowing us to estimate the entire distribution of willingness to pay (WTP) for these alternatives. We validate our results using a nationally-representative survey. The great majority of workers are not willing to pay for flexible scheduling relative to a traditional schedule: either the ability to choose the days and times of work or the number of hours they work. However, the average worker is willing to give up 20% of wages to avoid a schedule set by an employer on a week’s notice. This largely represents workers’ aversion to evening and weekend work, not scheduling unpredictability. Traditional M-F 9 am – 5 pm schedules are preferred by most job seekers. Despite the fact that the average worker isn’t willing to pay for scheduling flexibility, a tail of workers with high WTP allows for sizable compensating differentials. Of the worker friendly options we test, workers are willing to pay the most (8% of wages) for the option of working from home. Women, particularly those with young children, have higher WTP for work from home and to avoid employer scheduling discretion. They are slightly more likely to be in jobs with these amenities, but the differences are not large enough to explain any wage gaps.
Puzzled by the low willingness to pay for a flexible number-of-hours option, the authors posed the same choice to Mechanical Turk workers, and asked them to explain their choice. The Mechanical Turk workers are more likely to prefer flexibility. Of those who preferred the M-F 9 am - 5 pm option, they “typically mentioned that they liked having someone else set the schedule and tell them how many hours they should work. They expressed concern that if they could choose it would be difficult to force themselves to work their desired number of hours.” (p. 14).