When the Tasks Line Up: How the Nature of Supplementary Tasks Affects Worker Productivity

When the Tasks Line Up: How the Nature of Supplementary Tasks Affects Worker Productivity

August 11,2020Working Paper No. 3738

Jobs consist of bundles of tasks. Most jobs involve one or a few core tasks as well as supplementary tasks, but we know little about how the nature of supplementary tasks might affect workers’ core task productivity. In this paper, I use quantitative and qualitative data to study tea pickers at a plantation in India whose core task is to pick tea by hand but who also perform a range of supplementary tasks, such as weeding and sweeping roads. Using fine-grained personnel data on workers’ task assignments and their daily productivity, I find that workers’ productivity is affected by the extent to which their supplementary tasks are facilitative of their core task, even after controlling for the number of supplementary tasks being performed. When supplementary tasks are in service of the core task, performing supplementary tasks helps core task productivity; however when supplementary tasks are not facilitative of the core task, they hurt productivity. My qualitative data suggest that one key mechanism through which supplementary tasks affect core task productivity is by fostering what I call “core task identification.” This paper contributes to scholarship on the task structuring of work and offers policy recommendations to practitioners of work design.