Many organizations nowadays combine profits with a social mission. This paper reveals a new hidden benefit of the mission: its role in facilitating the emergence of efficiency wages. We show that in a standard gift-exchange principals highly underestimate agents’ reciprocity and, thereby, offer wages that are much lower than the profit-maximizing level. This bias has a high social cost: if principals had correct beliefs and thus offered the profit-maximizing wage, efficiency would increase by 86 percent. However, the presence of a social mission (in the form of a positive externality generated by the agent’s effort), by increasing principals' trust, acts as a debiasing mechanism and, thereby, increases efficiency by 50 percent. These results contribute to our understanding of behavior in mission-oriented organizations, to the debate about the relevance of reciprocity in the workplace and open new questions about belief formation in prosocial contexts.
mission motivation reciprocity gift exchange beliefs efficiency wages