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What Happens When You Sit Next to the Boss

The old saying goes, you're only truly yourself when you're alone. That's because it's human nature to change the way we behave, even just slightly, depending on who we're with. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives.

The old saying goes, you’re only truly yourself when you’re alone. That’s because it’s human nature to change the way we behave, even just slightly, depending on who we’re with. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives.

office

(Photo Credit: grahamhills/Flickr)

New research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, in partnership with Cambridge University, examined the way office seating arrangements impact the behavior of managers. Researchers engaged in five different studies, collecting data from business students and a large variety of workplace populations. Let’s take a look at the findings.

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1. Distance isn’t as negative as we thought.

The conventional wisdom is that seating workers, and managers, far away from the boss is a bad thing. The idea is that this distance opens up opportunities for unethical (or even illegal) behavior. Maybe without someone looking over shoulders, folks might feel they can get away with something.

This study challenges that belief. Distance between bosses and managers can be a good thing, if the boss himself is unethical. Finding a right balance in regards to distance might be the smartest option.

2. Distance can help middle managers break the chain of unethical guidance.

The bottom line of the researchers’ findings is that managers maintaining some distance, both socially and physically, from a misbehaving or unethical boss can stop them from carrying on the cycle of poor guidance.

“We demonstrate that higher level management unfairness can have detrimental effects throughout the organization,” said Dr Gijs van Houwelinger who prepared the study. “and it is passed down from high management to middle management, but only if the spatial and social distance is low.”

3. Beware the manager who only identifies with an unethical boss.

Keeping some distance between a manager and a misbehaving boss makes a difference. The research indicated that the closer managers feel to their boss, the more they mimic their behavior. Therefore, a manager who identifies only with the boss, spending time together almost exclusively, might not be guided by her own moral compass, but by the boss’s instead.

For more information, check out this four-minute video which explains the research findings on the RSM Discovery platform:

Tell Us What You Think

What have you noticed about how distance impacts behavior? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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