About two years ago, the person in charge of operations for our business school asked me if I would consider moving to a different office. He said it was my decision, but they thought the new Economics faculty member coming in would benefit from having people from his own department near him. He was offering me what many considered the nicest individual faculty office in the building (except for the chairpersons’s offices, which are the biggest). The office is also in an interesting location; surrounded on either side by the chair of accounting and the chair of marketing.
I told him I don’t really consider any office space to be mine; it belongs to the business school. So anywhere they wanted to move me would be fine with me, and I’ve been in my new digs for the past couple of years.
I didn’t think there was any hidden agenda to such a move until I read this story today in Kellogg Insight, a publication of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
Researchers looked at the 25-foot radius around high-performers at a large technology firm and found that these workers boosted performance in coworkers by 15 percent.
And here comes the part that’s got me paranoid:
Of course, the flipside is that bad eggs impact their neighbors, too. Negative spillover from so-called toxic workers is even more pronounced—sometimes having twice the magnitude of impact on profits as positive spillover. Yet, while this toxic spillover happens very quickly, it also dissipates almost immediately once that worker is either fired or relegated to the far physical reaches of the company. Which means that companies potentially have a very cheap way to boost productivity—simply shift some desks around.
So is that why they asked me to switch offices? Was I a toxic employee?(Technically I was not a toxic neighbor, since the authors define a toxic neighbor as someone who gets fired. But still, they did ask me to leave my office…).
Now I feel like checking what’s happened to the productivity of the people in the offices that are close to where my old office used to be. I’m almost hoping it’s gone way down, so I can say, “See, it wasn’t me.” And I also wonder what’s happened to the productivity of the people I’ve been moved closer to, but I’m scared to find out what the answer might be.
So yes, I’m a bit paranoid, and as that famous saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean people aren’t following you (or asking you to move offices).