The impact of hardworking employees on their less diligent colleagues

Slate investigates the question "Do hardworking employees make their slacker colleagues more productive?" Tim Harford cites the study Peers at Work by Alexandre Mas and Enrico Moretti which used a grocery store check-out line as its laboratory, and the results are illuminating. (It may be hard to find, but the key paragraph is in the middle of page 4, the one that begins, "We find that...")

Comments (12)
  1. David Walker says:

    There are anecdotal claims that in some companies, slacker employees (usually claimed to be in a union) will tell their newly hired hard-working co-workers to slow down or they’ll mess up the curve for everyone.

    [A close relative of mine was once that hard-working employee who was taken aside and told, “Hey, don’t work so hard. They expect us to goof off for a good part of the day. Here, let me teach you how to play FreeCell.” -Raymond]

    ALL employees at our local Department of Motor Vehicles will shuffle VERY slowly to the water fountain and shuffle slowly back after every 2 or 3 customers.  I wonder if they could walk any slower.  (I claim that paying them 50 cents extra for each customer serviced would cost the state less salary money overall, since so many more customers would be serviced with fewer employees.)

  2. John says:

    Well, the employees in the grocery check-out lines HAVE to work hard.  Otherwise it would make the store manager look like a TOTAL MORON for only having 2 out of 20 lanes staffed during rush hour.

  3. Scoth says:

    I’ve found it can work both ways. If an employee is somewhat more productive than some others, it can encourage others to work harder to try to match/beat them. In an experience I was witness to at my office recently, however, a single employee was so much more productive than the others that the others simply gave up because they didn’t think they could come close to matching, so why bother? In that case it ended up hurting the overall effort, although eventually the slackers were replaced with better workers who came closer to matching the star :)

  4. MSGrunt says:

    From what I have learned in the Windows division hardworking employees do not get rewarded with anything except more work, more responsibility, more stress, and longer hours.  But those employees that make stupid mistakes that cost co-workers thousands of man-hours and missed deadlines while they go on vacation get promoted along with their 1d10t lead who does not have a clue as to what anyone is doing.

  5. David Pritchard says:

    My conclusion is that you should only work harder than others for yourself, because you want to. Don’t do it in expectation of gain, because the slackers are in the majority (it’s just that many are denominated "bosses" and "managers").

  6. Maggie says:

    "10 Items or Less" is a cute movie where the higher productivity of one checkout clerk over another is key to the story.

    The study mentioned should have also tracked whether baggers were present during a sale, the organization of the customer and the quantity of coupons, etc.  It does not seem like they chose the best occupation to study.

  7. ERock says:

    Maggie, considering how long they were monitoring cashiers, statistically speaking, coupons and variances in customer-driven workload pretty much come out in the wash.

  8. Louis says:

    I’m not finished reading the paper, but we can apply it to computer industry? We know that there are individuals that can be ten times more productive that others, so even if they slack off half of the time they still are five time more productive.

  9. Jivlain says:

    Apparently, one of the arguments behind government funding for university degrees is that people with tertiary degrees make their high-school-only colleagues more productive.

    David Walker’s comment reminds me of the movie Hot Fuzz, where, at the start of the film (before any spoilers come into play), the lead character is sent away from the city police to a quaint little village in the country, as his high arrest rates were making everyone else look bad.

    Good movie, incidentally. I recommend it.

  10. Cooney says:

    In the same vein as Hot Fuzz (but closer to Trainspotting), check out Cash Back – life working in a grocery.

  11. Alex says:

    There is another thing that must be taken into account – how slackers influence the non-slackers.

    I consider myself a productive person, but lately I noticed how my performance decreased.

    Many of my colleagues are late, they leave earlier, they don’t handle their assignments properly and require permanent supervision, etc. My morale has deteriorated, and I think it is my colleagues’ influence (at least partially).

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