A new study from the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and Stanford University suggests that in times of recession, worker output increases and employers and firms are able to “do more with less.” Additionally, the study shows that workers’ increased efforts directly correlate with local unemployment rates, and that the greatest increases in productivity come from workers who are less productive pre-recession.

“What is fascinating about this study is that the increase in productivity that occurred during the last recession is a consequence of making do with less—the quality of the work force at the firm we study hardly changed,” said Christopher Stanton, Assistant Professor of Finance at the David Eccles School of Business, and an author on the study. “This is evidence that in areas where unemployment is high, workers are responding to the reduced likelihood of obtaining an alternative job, and, therefore, working harder to keep the one they have.”

The paper, titled “Making Do With Less: Working Harder During Recessions,” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found productivity in firms across the U.S. economy increased during the recession from 2007 to 2009. To study why this occurred, Stanton and his co-authors measured productivity in a firm providing technology-based, traceable services. After examining the productivity of more than 23,000 employees in more than 10 different states, the study examined the performance of “laggards,” (employees whose productivity was less than the median) and “stars,” (employees whose productivity was higher than the median) in different areas with varying levels of unemployment.

Results show that laggards’ increase in productivity was significantly hi