Firms frequently attempt to increase profits by replacing some existing workers with new lower-wage workers. However, this strategy may be ineffective in an incomplete-contract environment because the new workers may provide lower effort in response to their lower wages, and hiring new lower-wage workers may damage the remaining original workers' reciprocal relationship with the firm. We conduct an experiment to examine this issue and find that when new lower-wage workers become available, firms hire them to replace original higher-wage workers and pay the new workers lower wages. However, these lower wages do not improve firm profit because the decision to hire new lower-wage workers causes both the new and remaining workers to provide lower effort. Moreover, hiring lower-wage workers reduces new workers' payoffs and, thus, decreases social welfare. These unintended consequences suggest that firms should consider both the wage savings and the potential costs when deciding whether to replace some workers with new lower-wage workers. We discuss the implications of our findings for contract design, hiring practices, and managerial accountants.

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