Alan Benson

Alan Benson

Assistant Professor
Department of Work and Organizations


  • PhD 2013
    Management Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • BS 2007
    Industrial and Labor Relations Cornell University


  • Economics of human resources
  • Compensation
  • Incentives


Alan Benson is Assistant Professor in the Work & Organizations Group at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and a member of the Graduate Faculty of Minnesota's Department of Applied Economics and the Minnesota Population Center (MPC). He received my PhD from the Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where his dissertation advisors were David Autor (MIT Economics) and Paul Osterman (MIT Sloan). He received his Bachelor's degree from the Cornell's ILR School.

His research is on work and employment issues, and especially on the economics of human resources. His teaching includes compensation and benefits for Master's of HR students, negotiations for MBA students, and labor economics for PhD students. He is also instructor for a Coursera course on compensation and benefits. He has run professional seminars in negotiations, compensation, and people analytics.


Works in Progress

  • Ranganathan, Aruna, and Alan Benson. "A Numbers Game: Quantification of Work, Accidental Gamification, and Worker Productivity." Under revision at American Sociological Review
  • Benson, Alan, Simon Board, and Moritz Meyer-ter-vehn. "Discrimination in Hiring: Evidence from Retail Sales." Under revision at Review of Economic Studies.

Fellowships and Honors

  • 2019, Upjohn Institute Early Career Research Award and grant
  • 2018, Best paper award at Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) workshop on Incentives, Management, and Organization (IMO) in Milan, for "Promotions and the Peter Principle."
  • 2018, John Dunlop Outstanding Young Scholar Award, from LERA
  • 2018, Giarrantini Rising Star Award, from Industry Studies Association
  • 2018, Herbie Award for Excellence in Teaching, from Carlson's MA HRIR students
  • 2017, Second prize, best research paper competition, from Wharton People Analytics Conference, for "Hemming and Hawing over Hawthorne” (retitled "A Stitch in Time")
  • 2017, Best paper award, LERA/ ILR Review Best Paper Competition, for "Are Bonus Pools Driven by their Incentive Effects?"
  • 2017, Best paper award, Financial Institutions, Regulation, and Corporate Governance conference in Sydney, Australia, for “Promotions and the Peter Principle.”
  • 2016, Teaching Innovation Grant from Timothy J. Nantell Fund for Excellence in Teaching
  • 2014, Outstanding Research Award and Grant, from MPC
  • 2014, SOBACO Small Grant
  • 2013,  LERA Best Dissertation Award (Kochan-Sleigh Award)
  • 2012, Russell Sage Co-PI, “Is College Still Worth It?”
  • 2012, 64th LERA Meetings of the ASSA, Winner of Best Doctoral Student Paper
  • 2008-2013, Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
  • 2007-2008, MIT Presidential Graduate Fellowship
  • 2007, Best senior thesis (Joel Seidman Memorial Prize), for “A Game Theoretic Approach to Social Dialogue”
  • 2007, Service to ILR School award (Irving M. Ives Award)
  • 2007, Golden Key Outstanding Membership Award for Community Service
  • 2005-2007, Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholarship
  • 2004-2006, Undergraduate Academic Research Fellowship


  • ABC Radio National (Australia) - Richard Aedy's "The Peter Principle is Real," 6/30/18
  • Baltimore Sun - Dan Rodrick's "Questioning wage law built on kindness of strangers: Wondering how we got a separate base for tipped workers," 4/18/14
  • Bloomberg - "Good employee vs good boss," 02/20/18
  • Boca Raton Tribune - Rick Boxx's "Pitfalls of the Peter Principle," 12/3/18
  • Boston Herald - Jack Encarnaco's "Tuition spikes send higher education enrollment tumbling," 08/31/17
  • Business Insider - Ian Salisbury's "Economists have uncovered a counterintuitive truth about why so many bosses are terrible," 3/1/18
  • Business Radio (Wharton) - Interview with Prof. Peter Cappelli for radio show "In the Workplace," 6/7/18
  • BusinessWorld - Jemy Gatuda's "Why incompetents are elected or promoted," 1/24/19
  • BuzzFeed - Caroline O'Donovan's "American Labor Unions are Falling Down on Digital Workers," 7/24/15
  • CBS News Radio San Francisco - Interview with Chris Filippi, 11/30/14
  • CBS/ WCCO News - "Why has pay for U.S. workers stayed relatively flat?," 7/10/17
  • CBS/WCCO News - "Should you discuss salaries with co-workers?" 11/29/18
  • CBS/WCCO News - Paul and Jordana Show, "Why hasn't pay kept up with productivity?" 9/6/18
  • CFO - David McCann's "Be wary of promoting top sales reps," 2/26/18
  • Chicago Booth Review - Alex Verkhivker's "The best salespeople don't make the best managers," 7/12/17
  • Chronicle of Higher Education - Scott Carlson's "Is college worth it? Two reports say yes (mostly)," 11/4/13
  • Continental Telegraph - Tim Worstall's "Not that we ever doubted it, but the Peter Principle is correct," 4/23/19
  • Deseret News - Eric Schultz's "College is 'Worth It,' but Majors Matter," 3/4/15
  • Die Welt ("German: The World") - von Inga Michler's "Warum viele Firmen systematisch die Falschen befördern." ("Why many companies systematically promote the wrong people"), 3/28/18
  • Discovery News - Emily Sohn's "Is College 'Worth It'?" 10/16/15
  • The Economist - "The Promotion Curse," 6/16/19
  • Economisch Statistische Berichten (Netherlands) - "Reputatie als tegengas in de sjeeseconomie," 1/30/16
  • EU CEDEFOP (European Center for the Development of Vocational Training) - "New forms of work and shady employers: How reputation can discipline the gig economy”3/2/16
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis - Doug Clement's "In the Gig Economy, Reputation Counts," 2/6/19
  • Foundation for Economic Education - Alex Tabarrok's "The Peter Principle Tested," 5/6/19
  • Financial Times - Tim Harford's "We should not let bad managers stick around," 7/19/18
  • Financial Times - Sir Cary Cooper's "Don't Let Ambition Cloud our Talent Judgment," 8/3/18
  • Forbes - Rodd Wagner's "New Evidence the Peter Principle is Real, and What to Do About It," 4/10/18
  • Forbes - Bill Conerly's "Promoting Wrong People Hurts Retention and Productivity," 6/19/18
  • Forbes - Kathy Caprino's "Six Behaviors that will Block Your Leadership Success," (Peter Principle link), 2/2/19
  • Forbes (Mexico) - Diego Vallarino's "El Principio de Peter: promover a los incapaces," 3/6/19
  • Fox9 News - "Target Expands Paid Family Leave, Backup Care Benefits for Store Workers," 6/10/19
  • Grand Forks Herald - Ethan Nelson's "In ND, New Overtime Rule Will Have Bigger Effect Than in Minnesota," 6/11/16
  • Granted - Adam Grant's "Wondering," 5/18
  • Het Financieele Dagblad (Netherlands) - Jasper Lukkezen's "Zeemeeuwmanagement" 6/1/19
  • Here We Are - Podcast interview with Shane Moss, "Episode 180: Robots and Employment," 8/24/18
  • HR Executive - Peter Cappelli's "Promoting the Wrong Talent," 6/11/18
  • HRzone - Jan Hill's "Why HR needs to stop promoting based on the Peter Principle," 12/17/18
  • IZA Newsroom - "New forms of work and shady employers: How reputation can discipline the gig economy," 2/18/16
  • KARE 11 News (NBC-affiliated TV station serving Twin Cities) - Kent Erdahl's "Retailers Announce trips, bonuses to find holiday workers," 10/8/18
  • Knowledge@Wharton - "Are Good Managers Born or Made?" 3/15/16
  • Knowledge@Wharton - "Holiday Hiring: Can Retailers Attract Talent in a Tight Labor Market?" 11/15/18
  • LA Times - Op Ed, "How to manage the financial risks of investing in college," 12/25/13
  • Le Nouvele Economiste (France) - Tim Hartford's, "Principe de Peter : nous ne devrions pas laisser les mauvais managers s’éterniser dans leur poste," 10/8/18
  • Les Affaires (Quebec) - "Votre boss est un incompétent? Voici pourquoi!" 5/6/19
  • LinkedIn Pulse - Sue Barrett's "The alarming findings of the Peter Principle and Sales Managers," 5/28/18
  • Grand Forks Herald – Ethan Nelson’s “In ND, New Overtime Rule Will Have Bigger Effect Than in Minnesota," 6/11/16
  • Harvard Business Review - Alan Benson, Kelly Shue, and Danielle Li's "Do people really get promoted to their level of incompetence?" 3/8/18
  • Harvard Business Review - Andris Zoltners, Probhakant Sinha, and Sally Lorimer's "Why New Sales Managers Need More Training," 3/14/19
  • HR Executive - Mark McGraw's "Gender and the Global Mobility Gap," 4/20/15
  • Inside Sources - Michael Graham's "In Wake of 'Side Door' College Admissions Scandal, Americans Ask: Is College Worth It?" 3/14/19
  • Knowledge@Wharton - "Are Good Managers Born or Made?," 3/15/16
  • Marginal Revolution - Alex Tabarrok's "The Peter Principle Tested," 5/1/19
  • Minneapolis-St Paul Business Journal - Patrick Rehkamp's "Minneapolis Park Board's Ill-Timed Goodbye Gifts," 1/15/16
  • Naked Capitalism - Yves Smith's "Promotions and the Peter Principle," 4/25/19
  • National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) - Jay Fitzgerald's "The Peter Principle Isn't Just Real, It's Costly," 5/18
  • NBC News - "College Costs Soar, but Can You Afford Not to Go?" 4/15/15
  • NPR Morning Edition/ The Hidden Brain - Shankur Vindantam's "Why Is Your Boss Bad At His Job? It May Be The Peter Principle At Work" 4/3/18
  • NY Times - Sendhil Mullainathan's "You've become rich. That doesn't mean you're great at everything." 10/26/18. 
  • PBS Newshour - Article and TV mention, "6 Rules to Help You Make the Best College Decision", 1/14/15
  • Quartz - Corinne Purtill's "Your hotshot coworker would be a terrible boss, and research proves it," 2/26/18
  • Quartz - Quartz Obsession "The Peter Principle," 3/2/18
  • Quotable ( article) - Kevin Micalizzi's "Why you might not want to promote your top sales rep," 8/14/18
  • Quotable ( podcast) - Kevin Micalizzi's "The best sellers do not make the best managers," 11/1/18
  • Smart Company - Sue Barrett's "The alarming findings of the Peter Principle and sales managers," 5/28/18
  • Sydney Morning Herald - Sendhil Mullainathan's "You've become rich. That doesn't mean you're great at everything." 11/1/18
  • Technology Policy Institute - "Research Roundup Strikes Back," 1/12/16
  • The Globe and Mail (Canada) - Harvey Schachter's "Why promotions go awry," 4/14/18
  • The Times (of London/ the Sunday Times) - Grainne Rothery's "Why top dogs might baulk at the lead," 3/11/18
  • Thrive Global (Arianna Huffington's media company) - Nora Battelle's "How to handle the stress of a bad boss," 10/17/18
  • Thrive Global - Mallory Straton's "5 ways to support a colleague through a health scare," 3/8/19
  • Thrive Global - Elizabeth Yuko's "5 things everyone should do in their 20s to get ahead in their career," 3/27/19
  • Thrive Global - Ian Burke's "How to overcome deadline dread," 4/17/19
  • Time - Ian Salisbury's "Why Bosses Are Bad, According to Management Experts," 2/22/18
  • Twin Cities Business Journal - Kate Lerette's, "Degree Inflation" 9/1/17
  • Twin Cities Business Magazine - Gene Rebeck's "The IT Workforce Quandry," 5/7/19
  • Wall Street Journal - David Wessel's "How college has become a risky investment," 1/28/15
  • Wall Street Journal - Lauren Weber's "Why it's so hard to fill sales jobs: 'Salesman' baggage means well-paying tech industry positions go begging," 2/3/15
  • Wall Street Journal - Sam Walker's "Why Superstars Make Lousy Bosses," 11/6/18
  • Washington Post, Dina ElBoghdady's "Why couples move for a man's job, but not a woman's," 11/28/14
  • Washington Post, Danielle Paquette's "Why college isn't always worth it: A new study suggests the economic return on a college degree may be a lot more modest than you might think," 1/30/15

Selected Works & Activities.

  • Journal Articles
    Promotions and the Peter Principle
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan, Aaron Sojourner, and Akhmed Umyarov. Forthcoming. "Can Reputation Discipline the Gig Economy? Experimental Evidence from an Online Labor Market." Management Science.
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan. 2015. "Do Agents Game Their Agents' Behavior? Evidence from Sales Managers." Journal of Labor Economics, 33(4): 863-90.
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan. 2014. “Re-Thinking the Two-Body Problem: The Segregation of Women into Geographically-Flexible Occupations.” Demography, 51(5): 1619-39.
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan. 2015. “A Theory of Dual Job Search and Sex-Based Occupational Clustering.” Industrial Relations, 54(3): 367-400.
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan, and Sima Sajjadiani. 2018. "Are Bonus Pools Driven by their Incentive Effects? Evidence from Fluctuations in Gainsharing Incentives." Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 71(3): 567-99. (winner of 2017 LERA/ ILRR best paper competition)
  • Journal Articles
    Benson, Alan. 2013. “Firm-Sponsored General Education and Mobility Frictions: Evidence from Hospital Sponsorship of Nursing Schools and Faculty.” Journal of Health Economics, 32(1): 149-59.
  • Journal Articles
    Kochan, Thomas A., David B. Lipsky, and Mary Newhart, and Alan Benson. 2010. “The Long-Haul Effects of Interest Arbitration: The Case of New York State’s Taylor Law.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 64(4): 565-84.
  • Current Research

    Current research projects include:

    Benson, Alan, and Ben A. Rissing. "Strength from Within: Individual and Store-Level Evidence Transfers Outperform Hires."
    Ranganathan, Aruna, and Alan Benson. "A Stitch in Time: Work Complexity and the Divergent Effects of Employee Monitoring on Productivity."
    Benson, Alan, Danielle Li, and Kelly Shue. “Promotions and the Peter Principle.”


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