Productivity starts with your seating plans

28 Mar 2017 By Emily Burt

A new study suggests a low-cost way to improve productivity is to shake up the office seating arrangements

Jason Corsello and Dylan Minor analysed two years’ worth of data on more than 2,000 staff at a large technology firm, digging into their personalities and behaviours. They found workplace neighbours can have a significant impact – be it positive or negative – on an employee’s performance.

In the study, around 10 per cent of a worker’s performance spilled over to their neighbours, so replacing an average performer with one who is twice as productive could lead to neighbouring workers increasing their productivity by an average of 10 per cent. By contrast, toxic workers – who ended up being terminated for reasons related to behaviours such as misconduct or sexual harassment – increased the probability of being terminated by 27 per cent when they sat near each other.

The ‘spillover’ effects occurred almost immediately and vanished within two months, which suggests the productivity increase was down to both inspiration and peer pressure from sitting close to high-performers.

Corsello and Minor believe strategic office design can have a big impact at work, and suggest organisations pay close attention to engagement surveys to understand how employees feel about their work environment. A strategic seating chart could bring in about £800,000 in annual profit from greater productivity for a company with 2,000 staff, they estimate.  

Fathers face negative bias over work-life balance quest

Fathers who look for part-time jobs in an effort to improve their work-life balance are likely to be treated with suspicion and face questions over their commitment to the workplace, new research from the University of Plymouth suggests.

Using a previously existing history of gender biases and a tendency of managers to categorise employees based on gender stereotypes, researchers found that although working mothers face penalties when applying for full-time work, they are rewarded for pursuing part-time work – while fathers seeking to work less face a ‘fatherhood forfeit’.

The study included an online survey completed by around 100 managers, where participants were asked to score fictitious part-time work applicants who were equal except for their parental status. Mothers were scored 5 per cent higher than fathers through the online survey, despite applicants having similar qualifications and experience.

The fatherhood forfeit was equally apparent in a series of focus groups run by the team, with managers viewing fathers who wanted to work part time with suspicion. Working dads said they felt less supported than working mothers, and had to make more of a case than their female counterparts when wanting to work part time.

“This initial research may explain why so many more mothers work part time than fathers,” says lead researcher Jasmine Kelland. “If, as a society, we are to reach a position of equality for parents, it is critical that modern workplaces address the issue of the fatherhood forfeit to reduce the disparities that exist in the workplace.”

Research: 'Fathers face negative bias over quest for work-life balance, study suggests'

Minority workers at higher risk of ageism

Older workers, particularly those from an ethnic minority background, continue to experience employment discrimination despite legislation aimed at countering it, a study from Anglia Ruskin University has found.

Researchers sent 894 pairs of applications to firms with various vacancies: one set from a fictitious 28-year-old white British male, the other from a fictitious 50-year-old white British male. The study was carried out alongside a similar experiment where 898 pairs of applications were filled out on behalf of two fictitious black British males of similar ages.

The researchers sought to minimise the stereotyping of older applicants as less active, less motivated and less adaptable than younger employees by ensuring their application contained current work experience, physical hobbies and interests that demonstrated mental flexibility. However, the first study showed that the older white applicant was still 21.9 per cent less likely to be invited for an interview than the younger candidate.

“Our results suggest ageism plays a significant role in the UK labour market,” says Dr Nick Drydakis. “Older people must apply for more vacancies than the young to obtain an interview. Furthermore, older workers are invited to interviews for lower-paid jobs, potentially affecting their standard of living.”

In the sister study, the older black applicant was 24 per cent less likely to get an interview than their younger counterpart, suggesting that minority candidates suffer from higher levels of ageism than members of the ethnic majority.

Research: Age discrimination in the UK labour market. Does race moderate ageism? An experimental investigation

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