This study investigates the influence of managerial incentives to meet or beat the zero earnings benchmark on labor cost behavior of private Belgian firms. We posit that relative to managers of firms reporting healthy profits, managers meeting or beating the zero earnings benchmark will increase labor costs to a smaller extent when activity increases and decrease labor costs to a larger extent when activity decreases. This should take the form of more symmetric labor cost behavior for firms that report a small profit. Our findings are consistent with this prediction. Using detailed employee data, we show that managers of firms reporting a small profit focus on firing employees who are relatively low cost to fire. To protect their reputation in the labor market, managers of other firms, particularly those reporting healthy profits, limit the numbers of dismissals and react to activity changes by changing the number of hours that employees work.
Dierynck, B., Landsman, W., & Renders, A. H. K. (2012). Do managerial incentives drive cost behavior? Evidence about the role of the zero earnings benchmark for labor cost behavior in private Belgian firms. Accounting Review, 87(4), 1219-1246. https://doi.org/10.2308/accr-50153