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Published July 2016 | Submitted
Journal Article Open

Routing and Staffing When Servers Are Strategic


Traditionally, research focusing on the design of routing and staffing policies for service systems has modeled servers as having fixed (possibly heterogeneous) service rates. However, service systems are generally staffed by people. Furthermore, people respond to workload incentives; that is, how hard a person works can depend both on how much work there is and how the work is divided between the people responsible for it. In a service system, the routing and staffing policies control such workload incentives; and so the rate servers work will be impacted by the system's routing and staffing policies. This observation has consequences when modeling service system performance, and our objective in this paper is to investigate those consequences. We do this in the context of the M/M/N queue, which is the canonical model for large service systems. First, we present a model for "strategic" servers that choose their service rate to maximize a trade-off between an "effort cost," which captures the idea that servers exert more effort when working at a faster rate, and a "value of idleness," which assumes that servers value having idle time. Next, we characterize the symmetric Nash equilibrium service rate under any routing policy that routes based on the server idle time (such as the longest idle server first policy). We find that the system must operate in a quality-driven regime, in which servers have idle time, for an equilibrium to exist. The implication is that to have an equilibrium solution the staffing must have a first-order term that strictly exceeds that of the common square-root staffing policy. Then, within the class of policies that admit an equilibrium, we (asymptotically) solve the problem of minimizing the total cost, when there are linear staffing costs and linear waiting costs. Finally, we end by exploring the question of whether routing policies that are based on the service rate, instead of the server idle time, can improve system performance.

Additional Information

© 2016 Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences. Received: January 27, 2014; Accepted: March 4, 2016; Published Online: June 17, 2016.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023