Carrots and Sticks: Optimal Contracting with Skewness Preference and Ambiguity Aversion

Joaquín Gómez Miñambres, Lafayette College
Mark Schneider, Chapman University

Working Paper 19-02


Employment contracts often have a three-tiered structure, offering a base salary, a bonus for high performance and a penalty for poor performance. None of the standard models in contract theory generate such a contract. We show that such coarse contracts are optimal in a model where the agent exhibits two of the most robust deviations from expected utility theory: skewness preference and ambiguity aversion. The analysis identifies conditions where the optimal contract is simple and both carrots and sticks are optimal. Our analysis has implications for performance evaluation, corporate compensation structure, prize-linked savings accounts, and the determinants of intrinsic motivation.