A growing body of research from Harvard Business School and Northwestern University has received a great deal of press attention. The research found that sitting next to high achieving employees can boost productivity. Likewise it found that sitting next to “toxic” employees could be destructive. According to news reports about the studies, toxic workers “…who end up being fired for misbehavior tend to drag down the people around them.”
The research builds the case for dealing promptly with workplace integrity issues. The bad actor doesn’t just commit the immediate, known harm to the company. He or she harms the productivity of those nearby. Their work neighbors see the bad behavior, the length of time that it takes the company to respond, and their own productivity sink alongside that of the miscreant.
The research validates the importance of having the right culture in place. It also demonstrates that, no matter what your corporate culture, toxic employees create a sinkhole around themselves that can erode and suck under even a strong culture.
If there is good news here it is that the recovery time is relatively brisk. But, that should give no one cause to delay. A problem solved now is far less damaging than one solved later.
Let’s hope that a university next studies what happens when workers are next to more virtuous colleagues. In the meantime, chose where you sit wisely.
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