Is your Colleague a Jerk?

 

By Amy Jen Su

 

You know that colleague: the one who acts a certain way when your boss is in the room but sings a completely different tune when you’re alone. This can be especially frustrating when your boss is blind to this chameleon-like behavior and gives your colleague praise or even promotions. You may be tempted to call out the inconsistent behavior, but before you do anything, take the time to understand why the person behaves the way they do and what can you do about it.

 

First, recognize that there are different forms of this inconsistency. Here are three of the most common manifestations:

 

  • All that jazz. Fast-talking, articulate, quick on their feet, this colleague always has a great story to tell when the boss is in the room. While the person has big, lofty thoughts and appears deeply engaged, the rub comes when it’s time to divvy up and do the work. “There’s a smoke-and-mirrors element to it. Four other people walk out of the room with something on their to-do list and he doesn’t have any of the work,” says Karen Dillon, the author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics.

  • Sugar and spice. Friendly and acknowledging, this colleague says what folks want to hear. But then you find out that she’s undermining you. Dillon calls this “the fake good colleague.” She explains that this person “applauds your efforts when the boss is in the room, and then behind the scenes, you learn that she has quietly gone to the boss afterward to express her concerns.” You are typically surprised by this behavior because you expected more from the person.

  • Classic Machiavelli. Charming, confident, respectful when the boss is in the room. Curt, rude, dismissive otherwise. This person is on his best behavior around people who can help him fulfill his ambitions. In his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Wharton professor Adam Grant describes these colleagues as “takers.” He says this “duality” can be described as “’kissing up, kicking down.’ Although takers tend to be dominant and controlling with subordinates, they’re surprisingly submissive and deferential toward superiors. Takers want to be admired by influential sponsors, so they go out of their way to charm and flatter. As a result, powerful people tend to form glowing impressions.”

    Regardless of which type of person you’re dealing with, there are steps you can take to better manage your reaction and the person.

    First, recognize this is not about you. Don’t take it personally. When you see the behavior, take a step back and be a spectator to what’s going on. It’s easy to assume we’re onstage as a victim in this person’s game; in truth, it’s much more about your colleague’s lack of self-awareness, insecurity, or past experiences. “Few people wake up intentionally wanting to be the bad colleague that day. Rarely is it about evil intentions — it’s usually due to a lack of awareness or ineptness in emotional intelligence. It comes from a desire to impress the boss,” explains Dillon. Some folks grew up working in political organizations where they learned this is what it takes to be successful.

    Don’t play the game back. When we see this behavior, it’s tempting to want justice or to get even, especially if the behavior is rewarded. We get caught up in our own emotions: This is so unfair. I work so hard and try to be a good colleague to others. Why doesn’t the boss see through this? No matter what you do, don’t fight fire with fire. “It’s not worth twisting yourself into a pretzel,” says Dillon. “Don’t get caught up in self-destructive behavior. Don’t try to undermine this person back. Don’t badmouth her to other colleagues. Don’t recede or roll your eyes when he speaks, because all that does is make you look bad. Realize that good bosses are not duped over the long run. Mrs. Cleaver ultimately sees through Eddie Haskell.”

    Keep it constructive with your colleague. Before openly addressing the situation, be honest with yourself: Is your colleague’s behavior simply annoying, or is it affecting you or your team’s ability to contribute and get the job done? If it’s the latter and you decide now is the time to act, it’s usually best to start with your colleague rather than your boss. Approach it as constructively as possible. “Don’t confront your colleague in public,” Dillon says. “Have the conversation in a private place. Signal that you’re aiming for course correction and not trying to go to war.” Give your colleague the benefit of the doubt and seek to understand while also being clear on what you need.

    You might say:

 

  • “It’s unclear to me how our teams are dividing and conquering this plan. Can we discuss who is doing what before the next meeting?”

  • “I learned you had some concerns about the approach we’re taking. I’d welcome hearing about them. Could you share your views? Next time, please come to me directly.”

  • “I’m sensitive to the fact that we’re all busy. Could you let me know what would help to ensure our team has your full attention on this? The last time we were together, I sensed your frustration and impatience, and I’d like to make sure we keep the tone collaborative for all.”

    Carefully escalate to the boss, if necessary. If you don’t see much change and you continue to believe the behavior is affecting the work, proceed with caution when bringing it to the boss. Take time to prepare. Ask yourself: Have I done all I can to solve the problem here? How is my existing relationship with my boss? How can I best frame this so that I don’t come off as tossing a problem over the wall? What is the best timing and approach? 

    Dillon advises, “Be aware of looking like you’re the problem child. Be careful of seeming angry, petty, or as if you’re wagging a finger, whining, or complaining. It’s important to focus on the work.” In approaching your boss, be explicit about your intentions, ask questions, and seek to clarify. Maintain a calm and neutral tone.

    You might say:

 

  • “I’ve spoken to Joe about better defining roles and responsibilities on this next initiative. Could we have a three-way meeting to confirm before our teams move forward?”

  • “Thanks for sharing that Laura had concerns. I’ve looped back with her on it. If you hear more from her, please let me know or encourage her to come talk to me directly.”

  • “I’m a little confused about Tom’s role on Project X. I’ve spoken to him directly about the overall tone in those meetings, as he appears disengaged or frustrated in our meetings when you’re not there. I’d welcome any guidance on how to understand where this falls on his priority list.”

    Learn from your colleague and make it your own. There’s usually a personal reason that a colleague annoys us — and it’s smart to try to learn from that. Consider how your coworker serves as a mirror for things you might not like about yourself. Do you wish you were able to think as quickly on your feet? Are you concerned that you aren’t as visible to your boss or other senior people in the organization? Rather than painting all of the person’s behavior as negative, think about the positive skills he’s demonstrating — framing, storytelling, asking great questions, strategic thinking, letting others know his capabilities. It’s possible to emulate these skills without the accompanying bravado, arrogance, duplicity, or disrespect.

    As Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, writes, it’s possible to promote yourself “without alienating your colleagues and looking like a jerk.” Focus on building these important skills in your own way without compromising your integrity, violating your values, or being a bad colleague to others.

    It’s easy to get lost in the anger and frustration around colleagues who play the game differently than we do, especially in front of the boss. Refocus that energy on what’s in your control: staying mindful of your own behavior, handling things constructively, being open to learning, and aligning your own values. In other words, make it about you being a better colleague, not about punishing them for not being the same.

 

All in to Win

all-in-to-win

Are you attending CAI’s Annual Conference & Expo?  WE ARE!  CAMICB is All in to Win for the 2017 conference.  Come see us in Las Vegas May 3-6, 2017 at Caesars Palace!  CAMICB will be hosting a headshot lounge!  CMCAs and non-CMCAs are welcome.  Come meet the CAMICB Staff and Board.  Stop by the headshot lounge or our table for some giveaway items.

 

Check out the details on CAI’s website: https://www.caionline.org/Events/2017Conference/Pages/default.aspx

 

See you in Vegas!

 

All Night Email Can Make You Sick

 

Constant connectivity isn’t just bad for burnout and work-life balance

By Jessican Stillman @entrylevelrebel

 

Recently France approved a proposed law which gives employees a “right to disconnect.” The legislation obliges companies to shield their people from the kind of after hours work email barrage that’s pretty much standard practice over here in the U.S.

 

Which, if you’re regularly up late at night fielding meeting requests and anxiety-laden missives from your boss, probably sounds pretty good. But then again the French are, well, French. They’re known for their fierce commitment to the good life, fine wine, and plenty of leisure. In that light, this new law could also appear to be just another unaffordable continental luxury for overworked Americans to dream about while they try to dig out of their never ending inbox avalanche.

 

But it turns out, curbing the boss’s ability to pester his or her people in the evenings isn’t just about enjoying the finer things in life. Constant connectivity doesn’t just potentially burn you out and burden your family, it can also make you physically sick, research suggests.

life and work balance

 

The more you check email the more likely you are to get sick.

 

That’s the bottom line takeaway of a recent post on the Association for Psychological Science blog, highlighting a handful of new studies on the effects of after hours email. Predictably this research shows that being electronically tethered to your job 24/7 is stressful, and can lead to burnout and exhaustion. You probably didn’t need a massive German study with some 24,000 participants to tell you that, but if you did, it exists. So do a number of other studies linking after hours email with general stress.

 

Perhaps more surprising for some will be a previous study drawing on data from the 4th European Survey on Working Conditions that shows constant connectivity doesn’t just lead to burnout, but to an increase in the likelihood of a coming down with a variety of physical ailments.

 

Here’s the money sentence from the APS post: “The results revealed that people who reported more after hours contact from work also reported higher rates of health issues, such as musculoskeletal pain and cardiovascular conditions.” Or to put it even more bluntly, the more you check email after hours, the more likely you are to end up sick.

 

The takeaway for bosses and employees.

 

Given the well known link between psychological stress and physical symptoms, that’s hardly the shock of the century, but as you’re madly trying to clean our your inbox at 9pm it’s easy to lose sight of the connection between this sort of behavior and your aches and pains come morning.

 

But even if you’ve got this connection clear in your mind, what’s to be done? America is obviously not France, and especially given the current administration, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a big surge in legislation to protect workers’ anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that bosses and employees can’t take rational steps to minimize the harm of after hours email themselves.

 

There’s plenty of advice for leaders on how to set healthy boundaries and help your people avoid tech-related burnout. Even companies like Google are experimenting with programs that ask employees to hand over their work gadgets before leaving for the night. If fast-moving tech giants can manage to give their people a break, surely plenty of other businesses can too.

 

Ahh! Meetings!

 

By Julie Winkle Giulioni

 

Love them or hate them, meetings are a permanent feature of business.

 

Getting things done in organizations frequently requires bringing together multiple minds, perspectives and experience sets. Complex problems cannot be solved nor innovative opportunities leveraged via emails, knowledge management systems, reports or texting. This type of work demands the melding of minds and ideas — something that meetings are uniquely designed to enable.

 

The problem is that in recent years, other “real work” has increasingly been eclipsed as meetings have grown in number and length. And too much of even a good thing has become too much. According to the Association for Talent Development:

 

  • Nearly 60% of working professionals polled spend one to two hours in meetings each day.

  • 75% of mid-management employees and above spend three to four hours in meeting each day.

    Given the commitment individuals and organizations are making to meetings — and given the reality that meetings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon — it’s incumbent upon leaders to ensure that they squeeze as much value as possible out of the time invested. Consider the following 3 Ps before calling your next meeting and make it more powerful and productive.

    Purpose

    Meetings are frequently a knee-jerk reaction to any number of workplace events, not all of which require the commitment of time and energy of a meeting. So, before issuing your next meeting invitation, ask yourself these questions:

 

  • What do I hope to accomplish as a result of this meeting?

  • Can reaching this goal be achieved in any other way?

  • Does this topic require a variety of perspectives and points of view?

  • Do I already know the answer or have a plan that I’m just trying to get others to support?

    Clarifying — in just one sentence — what you hope the meeting will achieve is a great starting point for determining whether a meeting is necessary. If the purpose is to explore, solve, generate, decide or plan, you are on the right track to bring people together (virtually or otherwise) to make it happen. But, if you are simply looking to share information, there are countless other, more efficient ways to make this happen. Google Docs, emails, reports and updates are great asynchronous alternatives for disseminating information.

    And, for the productivity of your team and your own personal credibility, if you’ve already made a decision or crafted a plan, be transparent and simply share it. Too frequently, the purpose of a meeting is to build buy-in by making others feel like they were involved in something to which they have no input. It’s insulting, inauthentic, inefficient and otherwise intolerable to those whom you lead.SMEs

    Preparation

    Clarity of purpose in the leader’s mind is the first step toward clarity of purpose for meeting participants. Meeting time can be compressed and better used when everyone in attendance is ready to engage constructively. This means sharing information, not just about the purpose and logistics, but also about the thinking, review of information, and data gathering required to enrich the exchange. The time participants invest in preparation can pay significant benefits in terms of the quality of your meetings and the time they consume.

    Physical space

    The location you select and how you arrange the space has a significant influence on meeting dynamics. Settling into the same chairs around the same conference table week after week may not spark the breakthroughs, innovation and creativity you’re looking for. So, mix it up. Try shorter stand-up meetings. This format telegraphs a quicker cadence. It also solves an evolving organizational problem. According to the same source referenced earlier, “Booking meetings is one of the most common causes of workplace conflict.”

    Leaders who attend to these 3 P’s — purpose, preparation and physical space — will enjoy yet another P: participation. When meetings are well-conceived and planful, participants are able to engage more constructively, share more freely, and contribute more powerfully. And, when this happens, the couple of hours each day spent in meetings suddenly becomes the most valuable part of everyone’s day.

     

    Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

 

In The News

 

Massachusetts town halts condo refuse collection.

 

The city will no longer pick up trash and recyclable materials for condominiums built after Dec. 31, 2016, pending a vote next week of the City Council.

 

The council’s Ordinances, Charter & Rules Committee this week voted, 4-1, to endorse a change to the municipal code that will require condo associations to make arrangements for their own refuse collection.

 

 Alderman at-large Michael Concannon opposed the change. The full City Council is expected to vote on the legislation at its regular meeting on Tuesday (7 p.m.) at City Hall.

 

If approved, the change to the municipal code would impact newly-constructed condos only. Condominium complexes which currently have their trash and recyclable materials collected by the city will maintain that service.Piggy bank

 

“We have some big new projects coming on line, and the question is whether that cost should be borne by the condo association,” said Ward 4 Alderman Michael Anderson, who authored the change to the municipal code.

 

Concannon argued the council is creating different classifications of residents by selectively eliminating refuse collection.

 

“People who live in these (condos) pay taxes,” said Concannon. “Why won’t they get that service? If I was living in a condominium and I couldn’t get my trash picked up, I’d probably be down in the office to complain.”

 

“Would you still complain if you knew that up front?” responded Anderson.

 

“Probably,” said Concannon. “It’s not like the schools, where you pay even if you don’t have kids in school. That’s a social contract. This is a specific service.”

 

Board of Health Agent Jack Fralick said the savings to the city will be about $100 per condo unit if the municipal code change is adopted.

 

Trash collection

 

Condominiums were not included in the city’s trash collection routes until 1998, when the council adopted a zoning change, after representatives from several condo associations showed up to a council meeting to lobby for equal treatment.

 

With the prohibitive cost of refuse collection (the city’s trash contract this year is slightly more than $3 million), Anderson has argued that requiring private refuse collection from condominium owners ought to fall under the cost of doing business.

 

“We require apartments (with more than three units) and commercial properties to pick up their own trash,” agreed City Council President Richard Haggerty. “They pay taxes. People get different benefits. That’s just the way it is.”

 

Haggerty also noted that one of the selling points for condos when the developers come to the council for special permits is they require fewer city services.

 

“We hear that argument all the time,” said Haggerty. “That’s part of the equation.”

 

Fralick acknowledged “trying to provide equivalent services is difficult,” and said that condo complexes usually require more frequent trash collection than single-family homes. The trade-off, however, is it’s usually easier to collect the actual trash in areas where the residences are closer together.

 

“A lot of these condos don’t have kids,” said Ward 3 Alderman Mark Gaffney. “They’re elderly people who don’t generate a lot of trash.”

 

Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately said he favors the change to the zoning code, and noted there are at least three new condo projects of considerable size in the development stage.

 

“There are no more small packages,” he said. “No one is putting up four or five units anymore. I think the ordinance is good. We’re warning (developers) in advance if you’re putting up 200 units, you’re going to have to pay the price.”

 

“It’s a good ordinance. It’s written well,” said Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Campbell. “When you’re buying a condo, you understand these are the rules.”

 

Make Time for the Little Tasks

By Dorie Clark

 

We’d all like to spend our time at work on high-value activities: setting strategy, fostering innovation, mentoring promising employees, and more. But every professional faces a relentless deluge of niggling tasks — the overflowing inbox, the introductions you promised to make, the stack of paperwork you have to file, or the articles you really ought to read.

 

This low-value work is particularly vexing in light of the Pareto Principle, the adage — now gospel in Silicon Valley and many business circles — that 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of the value you create. If you can jettison what’s least important, the thinking goes, you can double down on what’s driving your most important contributions.

 

Indeed, sometimes you can let go of these activities. But you have to recognize, and reconcile yourself to the fact, that there is a price. Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates this approach. After one extended trip abroad during which he avoided email, he wrote that he had missed a large number of critical messages, including a fulfillment center crisis that caused him to lose more than 20% of monthly orders for his business, media interview opportunities that had expired, and more than a dozen partnership offers. Rather than mourning these lost chances, however, he embraced them. “Oftentimes,” he wrote, “in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

 

Perhaps. Though if you work for someone else, rather than being self-employed, the tolerance level for these missed opportunities is a lot lower. If you can’t afford to ignore email or other low-value tasks entirely, and your options for delegating to others are limited, here are three techniques you can use to minimize the pain and get things done.

overworked

 

One possibility is to batch your less important tasks and accomplish them in one fell swoop, creating a sense of momentum. You can do this solo — I used to park myself at a local café and vow not to come home until I’d completed my to-do list for the day — or, in some cases, communally. New York filmmaker Jeremy Redleaf recently launched “Cave Day,” an event in which professionals pay a small fee to spend a Sunday at a coworking facility, plowing through tasks such as cleaning your inbox and writing thank you cards.

 

Another technique, for those who prefer an incremental approach, is the “small drip strategy.” This involves identifying small blocks of time in your schedule (typically 15–30 minutes per day) and matching them with low-value tasks that need to be accomplished. Yesterday I had to look up how much I had paid my virtual assistant last year in order to get the information to my accountant, so he could issue her tax forms in a timely fashion. That’s no one’s definition of “strategic” or “high value.” It’s a boring, but mandatory, task that would be easy to put off. But when I reviewed my calendar the night before and saw I had a 15-minute window between two calls, I slotted it in and accomplished it. You can look for these scheduling holes serendipitously, or deliberately schedule in a half-hour of grunt work every day, perhaps at the end of the workday, when most professionals’ energy is waning and your ability to do creative thinking has tapered off.

 

Finally, you could procrastinate strategically. This differs from simply ignoring all incoming email, Tim Ferriss–style. What you do is weigh the value of the opportunity and set your own timeline for handling it. If the timeline happens to work for the other person, it’s a happy coincidence; if it doesn’t, you’ve already reconciled yourself to the possibility of missing out. I’ll often take this approach when it comes to requests from miscellaneous bloggers. I respond quickly to inquiries from official journalists, but if someone is writing a post for their personal blog, I’d like to help them out, but don’t want to sacrifice an important task (such as finishing book edits) to do so. I always write back eventually, but it may take me a number of days, or even weeks. If they can still use my quote, fantastic; if they can’t, it’s only a minor loss.

 

No matter how productive we become, we’re never going to permanently rid ourselves of low-value work. By following these strategies, we can at least handle it more efficiently and leave more white space in our days for the projects that are truly meaningful.

 


 

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. You can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

 

 

 

Owner – Renter Tension

neighborhood

Many homeowners believe renters make bad neighbors, allowing their properties to fall into disrepair during brief stays in homes that belong to investors who only care about the rent.

 

True or false?

 

John Adams did a piece for AJC on this topic:

 

Q: Renters are tired of being treated like second class citizens, while some owners claim their neighborhoods are being ruined by renters. Who is right and who is wrong?

 

A: It’s not quite that easy. This is a struggle that’s been going on for a million years, starting with the first cave man who rented his cave to another family in the off-season. The neighbors in the adjoining cave didn’t like it and made their opinions known to the owner when he returned. People who put down roots and invest heavily in a certain location have always resented those who were able to achieve much the same benefits for almost none of the financial or life commitment. And I don’t expect that to change any time soon. Each side has a valid argument.

 

Q: What is the position of the unhappy owner-occupant with neighbors who are renters?

 

A: OK, the owners next door have sunk their life savings into the house and the community, they pay property taxes, and they live and die financially by the success or failure of the community. From their perspective, they are fully committed, both financially and socially, to the neighborhood, the schools, and the local community.

 

From their perspective, the renters are temporary occupants who benefit from the blood, sweat and tears of the neighborhood, and often contribute nothing back but a poorly maintained house and an ugly yard with overgrown bushes and a weedy lawn.

 

What are your experiences?

 

Want to Be More Productive? Sit Next to Someone Who Is

 

By Jason Corsello and Dylan Minor 

 

To increase worker performance, employers often invest in a number of things, from rewards and incentives to education and training. These traditional approaches develop employees’ skills and enrich their work experience. But we discovered a surprisingly simple way to increase productivity, one that was low-cost and had immediate impact: better office seating arrangements.

 

Research we conducted suggests that who an employee sits next to affects how they perform — and grouping the right types of coworkers together can improve productivity and work quality.

 

We analyzed two years’ worth of data on more than 2,000 employees of a large technology company with several locations in the U.S. and Europe. (The company is a client of Cornerstone OnDemand, which one of us, Jason, works for.) We created unique identifiers for each worker after merging five different data sources:

 

  • A master file that contained employee data, such as hire and termination dates, job position, compensation, and direct managers

  • Two engagement surveys conducted across the organization

  • Monthly reports on each employee’s location and assigned cubicle over time

  • Building maps and floor plans to calculate the distance between each cubicle on a given floor

  • Worker performance data broken down into three metrics:

    • Productivity. We measured the average length of time it took a worker to complete a task. For any given worker in this company, tasks were fairly similar and occured regularly.

    • Effectiveness. We measured the average daily rate at which a worker needed to refer a task to a different worker to solve. This occurred when the employee couldn’t resolve the task on their own and it was assigned to another.

    • Quality. We measured the client’s satisfaction with the task on a five-point scale.

 

For every performance measure, we looked at “spillover,” a measure of the impact that office neighbors had on an employee’s performance. Assume a worker has three coworkers: one sits next to her, one sits 25 feet away, and another sits 50 feet away. We looked at the performance of the three coworkers along with their distance from the worker, and through various data modeling techniques we measured the average spillover of their performance on the worker.make-today-a-productive-day.

 

We saw that neighbors have a significant impact on an employee’s performance, and it can be either positive or negative. In terms of magnitude, we found that approximately 10% of a worker’s performance spills over to her neighbors. Replacing an average performer with one who is twice as productive results in his or her neighboring workers increasing their own productivity by about 10%, on average.

 

One unique feature of our data is that workers were randomly assigned to teams and to desks, and they were periodically moved around in a quasi-random way due to the demand and supply of workers. A centralized human resource department sent workers to different locations based on the essentially random flow of new workers arriving at a particular time. This suggests that the effects of neighbor location on performance may be casual.

 

We categorized workers into three types: productive workers, who completed tasks quickly but lacked quality; quality workers, who produced superior work but did so slowly; and generalists, who were average across both dimensions. In our sample, 25% of people were productive workers, 25% were quality workers, and the remaining 50% were generalists.

 

Pair People with Opposite Strengths

 

In our sample, where groups of workers were clustered together, we found that the best seating arrangements had productive and quality employees sitting beside each other, because each helped the other improve. There was a spillover effect on both workers’ areas of weakness: A quality worker tried to match the speed of a productive worker, while the productive worker tried to improve their work quality. When productive workers were seated next to quality workers (and generalists were grouped together), we found a 13% gain in productivity (speed of work) and a 17% gain in effectiveness (fewer unresolved tasks) in that group.

 

On the other hand, seating two productive workers together did not significantly increase their productivity — nor did placing quality workers together increase their work quality. And since generalists were average in both categories, they were less affected by spillover effects from either side.

 

An interesting finding, for this particular technology firm, is that workers who were strong on one dimension (task quality or task speed) tended not to be sensitive to spillover on that dimension, while workers who were weak on that dimension were sensitive to spillover. This is why putting a fast worker next to a slow worker tends to speed up the slow worker instead of slowing down the fast worker.

 

Separating Toxic Workers

 

Toxic workers in our sample were employees who ended up being terminated for reasons related to toxic behavior, which included misconduct, workplace violence, drug or alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, falsification of documents, fraud, and other violations of company policy. Toxic workers negatively influenced their neighbors’ performance.

 

If toxic employees were near each other, it increased the probability that one of them would be terminated by 27%. But in contrast to productivity and quality spillover, any type of worker seemed susceptible to toxic spillover. If a toxic worker sat next to a nontoxic worker, the toxic worker’s influence won out, and the nontoxic worker had an increased chance of becoming toxic. This suggests that companies should pay close attention to employee engagement surveys to understand how employees feel about their work environment. Surveys can root out toxicity by providing an early warning for managers and HR to intervene.

 

What Drove These Spillover Effects?

 

We found that these effects occurred almost immediately but vanished within two months. (Performance was measured daily or weekly, depending on the metric of interest, and then averaged by month.) This suggests that, instead of employees learning from one another, which would likely take some time, the effects were driven by a combination of inspiration and/or peer pressure from sitting near high-performing workers. Of course, we could not distinguish which factors truly drove the effect.

 

Our study leads us to believe that better spatial management of workers can enhance individual and team performance. But managers need to first look at employees’ performance and see where they would want spillover to occur. We estimate that a strategic seating chart could bring in $1 million in annual profit from greater productivity for an organization of 2,000 workers.

 

To be sure, different organizations will have different tasks and different kinds of spillover; the optimal seating arrangement for the firm we studied may not be the best for all firms. But it illustrates how office design can influence performance. Once an organization identifies which spillovers exist, management can plan the space of the organization to produce better outcomes. In this way, physical space, which companies can manage relatively inexpensively, can be an important business resource.

 

 

Jason Corsello is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development for Cornerstone OnDemand, a global leader in cloud-based talent management software that helps organizations to recruit, train, and manage their people. He is responsible for driving the company’s product innovation, go-to-market strategies and new corporate initiatives.

 


 

Dylan Minor holds an assistant professorship at the Kellogg School of Management. Professor Minor received his PhD in business administration from UC Berkeley. His research explores the nexus between organizations and social and ethical issues