Monetary incentivized ratings on crowdsourcing platforms for paid work

Paul Hemsen, Paderborn University

This study focuses on monetary incentivized ratings (e.g. Five-Star-Ratings) for self-employed workers on so-called “crowdworking platforms”, i.e. crowdsourcing platforms for paid work. The main question is whether particular monetary incentivized ratings can support platforms in motivating and committing workers and at the same time allow workers to earn a sufficient and fair regular wage. Empirical evidence comes from new data gained on a questionnaire survey conducted in 2018 among some 600 workers on three German platforms. I would like to present the findings of the study at ILERA. The data are currently being processed. In the remainder of this abstract, I will discuss the theoretical background and will present first descriptive findings from the survey.

Like other organizations, crowdworking platforms need to attract, motivate and commit workers. Platforms who coordinate highly skilled tasks such as designing, testing, or texting platforms are particularly dependent on skilled workers. These workers, in turn, are not bound to one platform only and are free to leave or not contribute to a particular platform.

Findings from the survey support these assumptions. 597 Workers from three platforms (two microtask-platforms and one texting-platform) were asked about various aspects of their work and their personal background. The workers are highly educated (46.4% with an academic degree, 41.54% with a vocational training) and therefore potentially qualified for different tasks. They are on average active on 2.6 platforms with an average membership of 3 years on at least one of the three surveyed platforms.

First results of the survey seem to indicate that workers’ expectations on their crowdwork activities are not met by the present conditions. Workers report as their reasons for doing crowdwork: a better coordination between work and personal life; a source of income; improvement of financial situation; performing interesting tasks. When we compare expectations and actual conditions, many workers seem to miss an appropriate balance between their effort and the income they receive and a fair appraisal of the results they deliver.

Platforms with a need for specific skills are well advised to take the unmet expectations into consideration as they may harm worker motivation and commitment. In particular, short-term and narrow, task-oriented compensation systems on these platforms are a potential cause for unmet expectations.

More long-term oriented, monetary incentivized ratings may be favorable to both the platforms and the workers. Such ratings assign a particular predefined rating (e.g. Stars; Level) or status level to each registered worker, based on experience, measured performance or subjective appraisals by the platform, peers or clients. This approach is especially supported by the concepts of standards in rank-order tournaments (Lazear & Gibbs, 2009) and goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 2002). Such ratings may also combine different rewards such as pay or access to particular tasks in an ingenious way.

Today, only few crowdworking platforms have implemented such ratings. Examples include the testing-platform Applause; texting platforms such as and Textbroker; and designing platforms such as 99Designs, DesignenLassen, Fotolia, AdobeStock and iStockphoto. In these platforms, pay still is attached to the execution of a particular task, of a particular quality, but it also depends on the worker’s prior achievement as measured by rating or status level. Since other rewards may also be differentiated by level, such as the access to an extended task pool, a monetary incentivized rating is potentially able to address extrinsic motivation (for instance through additional monetary compensation and reputations concerns) (Bayus, 2010; Brabham, 2008; Leimeister, Huber, Bretschneider, & Krcmar, 2009) as well as intrinsic motivation (for instance through self-satisfaction and personal development) (Chittilappilly, Chen, & Amer-Yahia, 2016). Yet the existing empirical literature remains largely unclear as to whether such monetary compensated ratings are indeed effective in increasing work participation and performance; and worker’s commitment towards the platform (Goes, Guo, & Lin, 2016).

The survey also includes for the first time information on workers’ perception of the incentive system: appropriateness of evaluation and the result rewards; transparency; perceived influences on the factors income, task pool, success on platform, motivation and recognition through different parties (platform, client, peers). Interestingly, these dimensions were rated more favorably by workers on one texting platform we surveyed than by workers on two microtask platforms – the latter do not have monetary incentivized rating whereas as the first one does.

The survey also includes findings on workers’ platform commitment. For example, we find that perceived continuance commitment towards the platform is slightly stronger than affective commitment, which is not surprising given the predominance of monetary motivation for participation. Workers of the texting platform report the highest level of affective and continuance commitment towards the platform. In line with this, 74% of workers of the texting platform intend to continue this relation for at least another year, compared to a share of 56% and 62% for the two microtask platforms. Further analysis will show to what extent the rating system explains these findings. In addition, I will analyze how participation and performance differ within and between the performance ratings on different platforms.

This research should help to shed light on the important role of incentive systems, especially monetary incentivized ratings, in this highly flexible working environment. More long-term oriented incentive systems may be favorable to both workers and platforms: Platforms may be able to find, motivate, and commit more qualified workers; and workers may generate more appropriate pay levels and interesting tasks, which would be an important step to creating a more desirable digital working environment.


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