Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dear Kate: What's the fair job division?

Dear Kate,

I'm a working mother with two naughty boys (2 and 1 year old). We hire two babysitters to take care of them (one for each). Recently our helper took off for mudik and never came back. So I have decided to extend the tasks of the nannies to include washing and ironing the boys' clothes -- of course with a good additional monthly pay. I've heard that economists always suggest division of labor. Any advice? Thanks. Busy Mother @ Depok.

Dear Busy Mother @ Depok,

Assign Nanny A for washing and Nanny B for ironing. Then reverse that on monthly basis. If only one nanny do both washing and ironing, the other one would have no incentive to limit the number of clothes coming into the laundry basket. Suppose for example that both tasks fall to Nanny A, Boy 1's babysitter. Because Nanny A would know full well how inconvenient washing and ironing are, she would be very concious that her boy doesn't play with too much dirt. That way, the number of dirty clothes can be minimized. But that's not the case of Nanny B. Imagine this. Every time Boy 2 spits on his cloth, no matter how small, Nanny B will just take it off, throw it into the basket then get a new, clean one. Worse yet, she would have less incentive to teach Boy 2 about living clean. Now, if you give her responsibility to iron the dry clothes, she would think twice. After all, she wants less clothes to iron later in the evening. Kate.


  1. dear kate,

    seriously, do you assume that the two nannies don't talk to, socialize with, and befriend one another?

    a dumbfounded psychologist @ australia.

  2. Dear Dumbfounded Psychologist @ Australia,

    Of course they talk to each other, befriend one another. Just like OPEC members, if you know what I'm talking about. Or think about you and your little brother. You claim you love him much, yet you play trick when it comes to dividing a pie.



  3. It's not that I think it's a bad idea (in fact, it's a pretty good one), but I'm not sure it's entirely necessary.

    Kinda like what our "dumbfounded psychologist" pointed out, these two nannies will be interacting with each other for quite some time.

    In game theory terms, it's a repeated game. Assuming the nanny that gets stuck with washing and ironing duties (Nanny A) is able to retaliate in some way (reporting to the missus that Nanny B is allowing her son to play in the mud, teaching him to live in a sloppy manner, and other things which could very well result in termination of employment for Nanny B), then there is a built in disincentive to stray from more "friendly" behavior. Well, at least until the last period before Nanny B decides to mudik and never come back.

    It's just like how I don't mess with my little brother too much because he can easily tell my mom. I still do, of course, but that's only because I know my parents would never disown me because of such trivial matters =P.

  4. Fik that's a fair observation. Except that this mother is the Busy Mother. Who has little time for one-sided complaints from one nanny against the other... She prefers an incentive-disincentive mechanism that can work without constant monitoring, I reckon.

  5. I think, we have to describe what is the 'main goal' of the mother, first, before making an incentive system...

    in the story, i got the point, that the mother objective is to get the best for her children, especially in their clothes (both in washing ang ironing). From this story i assume that, the mother wants the best on both boys (mother love the boyz at the same value in each one)

    For reaching that objective, she wants to make an incentive system for the nannies, right..!

    I think, we don't have to make a debate about the mechanism. Just tell the nanny that :

    "I want the best on my children, no matter what happen. I don't care about how u (the nannies) do that. And, i will give u more money if u all do best on my children, but i will fire (or another disinsentive) all of u if my boys don't get best (assuming the nannies love the jobs and reluctant to leave)" (mother said)

    I think with that condition, we don't have to make a specific division of labour. The division of labour will happen with natural mechanism (like invisible hand), the nannies will think to how to do this job in the most efficient and effective condition. ( I think the nannies know their jobs, and naturally know, how to get the best outcomes).

    'We will never know, how they do the tasks and the process, because we are not nannies, ha... ha...'

    "Just give general incentive on them, and rationally, the natural mechanism will work magically",
    And u will get the best outcomes

  6. Fakrul -- no it won't work. and we have the jargon for that: "principal-agency problem" ... :-)

    same thing for politicians that says "I'll give my best to the people."

  7. a.p. , about the principal agent problem, i think the mother will see the result of the task that completed by the nannies...

    that is an indicator of succesfullnes s of the nannies project...

    the mother will not be fooled by the nannies (except she is dumb, or don't care). And the nannies, in their strategic behaviour should calculate the risk and return of not doing well the goal of their task, or doing their job completely.

    The big problem is, if there are assymetric information between mother and nannies...,
    I think, controlling mechanism should be madefor prevent that...

    But, in my opinion, is still the same., "LET THE NANNIES DO THE BEST AS THEY WANT, don't make many intervention that contraproductive, BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEIR JOB, and wants for the incentive"