Variation in Task Opportunity and Future Productivity of Employees



This paper seeks to contribute to the management practices literature in empirically examining the impact of variation in task assignment on the future productivity of employees. Classic papers in management argue that job rotation has a positive effect on productivity driven both by employee learning leading to skill accumulation and motivational effects. Empirical evidence, however, on these channels have been scarce. We develop a novel empirical strategy to examine the link between differences in task opportunities assigned to employees and their future productivity.  In doing so, we narrow our focus to tasks (as opposed to jobs) that vary in the level of opportunities for productivity. We follow a cohort of newly hired employees that start out in low-opportunity tasks and are temporarily assigned to a high opportunity task in the context of a restaurant chain. We examined how employees’ productivity changes pre- and post- their temporary assignment to tasks with greater opportunities – specifically, serving tables in a more desirable section of the restaurant where they had a higher chance of generating more sales and earning more tips. Our findings indicate that: (1) temporarily assigning employees to perform table-service tasks in a high-opportunity section leads to an increase, on average, in their hourly sales in subsequent periods when they are assigned back to low-opportunity sections, (2) this increase in hourly sales results primarily from an increase in the number of tables simultaneously served by these employees, rather than an improvement in their serving speed or sales per transaction, and, (3) the post-assignment effect was present only in employees that improved their hourly sales during their temporary assignment but not in the employees that experienced a decrease in their hourly sales. Based on our interviews with restaurant managers, we conclude that conditional on the motivational effect of increased hourly sales (that also translates into higher tips), the employees also acquired more advanced multitasking skills to serve more tables simultaneously.