Productivity Can Go Viral, and You Can Catch the Bug

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Finally, something’s going viral that’s worth your time and attention – and thankfully, you don’t need to log on to Facebook to be in the know. It’s productivity; and the more we learn about how organizations (and those within them) can become more efficient, cohesive, and potent, the more it’s becoming clear that work ethic can spread like wild fire through the ranks.

Increasing one’s productivity, or simply getting yourself in ‘the zone’, is challenging for a lot of people. There are a lot of factors at play, ranging from your immediate surroundings to your diet, and if one thing is off, it can send you into a tailspin, becoming distracted by any and everything. That doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help your coworkers, and it certainly doesn’t help your career prospects – particularly if distraction and low productivity is a chronic issue.

As researchers have delved further into research around productivity, an important detail has been uncovered that may help those of you who struggle with staying on top of things. It’s as simple as looking to, and emulating, your coworkers.

That’s because productivity is contagious – or viral.

A recent column by Stockholm University researchers and professors Matthew Lindquist, Jan Sauermann, and Yves Zenou, published on (a portal site for the Center for Economic Policy Research) dug into literature and several studies relating to productivity that were published within the past decade. The conclusion of these researchers is that productivity is indeed contagious, although not always for the same reasons.

“The mechanisms that most researchers have in mind when discussing peer effects in worker productivity fall into two broad categories: work place norms, which includes mechanisms such as peer pressure and conformist behaviour; and worker complementarities, which includes mechanisms like knowledge spillovers, collaborative efforts, and/or task specialisation,” the professors write.

The column continues: “Our reading of the literature leads us to conclude that there is strong evidence supporting the idea that there exist meaningful peer effects in worker productivity among workers performing low-skilled tasks, and that these effects arise primarily from conformist behaviour or peer pressure. Evidence of peer effects among high-skilled workers is typically attributed to knowledge spillovers.”

What that means is that there are a couple main channels through which productivity ‘jumps’ from person to person. One is through conformist behavior, or peer pressure (which the authors call the ‘local average effect’). If you see your coworker busting their ass, you’re more likely to work harder so that you’re not ‘left behind’. The other is through ‘knowledge spillover’, or what the authors call a ‘local aggregate effect’, which has to do with the strategic sets of knowledge and skills certain workers possess, and how they can have a multiplier effect when working in cohesion.

Basically, productivity goes viral through a sort of peer pressure or from working with other brilliant people, and having that brilliance compound and manifest externally in additional levels of productivity. So, if you want to increase your own levels of productivity, you should be finding the workplace busy bees, and sticking close to them. Their attitude and work ethic is bound to rub off on you.

This is the easiest and most efficient way to take advantage of productivity’s virality.

But, if you’re looking to use this virality component to your strategic advantage, it can be an easy (if not sneaky) way to assume a role as a workplace leader. All it takes is the willingness and work ethic to be the one who kicks over the first domino. By taking charge, putting your head down, and allowing your productivity to ‘spill over’ onto your coworkers – or even applying a sort of peer pressure on to them – you’re assuming the role of captain, even if it’s altogether unspoken.

That won’t go unnoticed, and could put you in line for a promotion or raise. Or, if you’re already in a management or leadership position, simply leading by example can be a great way to mobilize and invigorate those you’re in charge of.

Either way, recognize that productivity has a viral component to it, and use it to your advantage. Whether you need a hack for getting yourself ‘in the zone’, or if you want to use it for career advancement, these are some real world applications being uncovered by researchers.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger.

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