This study examines the influence of in-group identity between supervisors and subordinates and the clarity of the bonus determination criteria on supervisors’ discretionary adjustments of subordinates’ bonus compensation through the lens of social identity theory. Using field data from a multinational manufacturing company’s subsidiary in China, we find that in-group sales agents receive higher bonus awards and that this effect is more pronounced when there is high clarity of the bonus determination criteria. Additional analysis shows that these effects hold for higher-tenured sales agents and in regions characterized by lower sales agent turnover. Finally, we find that higher bonus awards are positively (negatively) associated with in-group sales agents’ future performance when there is low (high) clarity of the bonus determination criteria. Our findings hold potential implications for management practices in corporations operating in countries that have strong relationship-based cultures.

Data Availability: Data used in this study are provided by a proprietary source.

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