Where You Sit Can Make or Break Your Career

It matters where management puts us. Whether it’s sitting too close to a toxic boss or toxic co-workers, where you land in the organizational seating chart can affect your career.

Bad Behavior

New research from the Netherlands has established a link between sitting near a manager who displays bad conduct and low productivity. Physical distance is the key. When you sit near your boss, bad behavior rubs off.

Scientists from the Rotterdam School of Management conducted a series of experiments that found employees were more likely to identify with and mimic managers when they sit closer.

“Close” employees get cues about how to treat others from the boss. If that manager deals in bad conduct like lack of ethics and unfair treatment of employees, those closest duplicate the boss’s actions.  

When physically close to your boss, you identify with them. The study found that “joiners” tend to copy their boss’s behavior more.

Proximity Determines Emotional Effects

Apply this logic to any emotionally-charged situation. Seeing an owner mistreat a pet will most likely result in anger. But if you hear about the same situation in another country, chances are you won’t be as angry. You’re emotionally removed from the event.

The Netherlands study recommends a balance. Our digital lives mean we can communicate without being next to one another. Productive organizations need to find a counterbalance between proximity and collaboration.

Sitting Next to Other Employees

The Harvard Business School and Cornerstone OnDemand conducted a study regarding where employees sit and how it affects productivity, efficiency, and happiness.

 The study concluded that employees who sit next to their work-style alter ego enjoy a rise in productivity and quality.

According to the Harvard study, employees fall into one of the following categories: “Productive,” “Generalists” and “Quality.” Generalists are average in both areas.

Should a Strong Employees Sit Next to a Weak Performer?   

Scientists found that the weaker employee improves while the stronger employee remains stable. Two people sitting across from one another create a “communicable” environment where the high performer “infects” the weaker worker, resulting in improvement for the less productive worker. And proximity may actually increase performance in both.

No matter your competence level, when you sit within 25-feet of a work area where employees are toxic – endless gossip, negativity – you are 150% more likely to be fired.

The good news? According to the study, good work habits are much more contagious than bad. By rearranging work stations in a thoughtful way, organizations can boost productivity, happiness, and corporate profits.





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