New York: Shedding new light on how status affects workplace relationships, a new study has found that workers are most likely to help colleagues who are moderately distant from themselves in status -- both above and below them.
"The sweet spot for helping seems to be those who are moderately distant from you in status," said study co-author Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University in the US.
The study did not examine why colleagues who were moderately distant in status were most likely to help each other.
But it may be related to how workers perceive their own status within the company, lead researcher Sarah Doyle from The Ohio State University noted.
"Someone near you in status poses more of a threat" Doyle said.
Those who are far above or below you in status could require a lot more time and effort to help, which could hurt your own job performance.
Those colleagues who are moderately distant do not pose much of a threat and offer the best opportunity for workers to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate with their teammates.
The findings appeared online in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries.
The researchers conducted two separate studies -- one in a real workplace -- and both reached similar conclusions.
In the first study, 267 undergraduate students read a work scenario in which they imagined they were part of a 15-person work group in a large sales organisation.
Participants were told that one of their group members was close to securing a large account, but was running short on time. The participants were asked if they would be willing to provide help, knowing that helping was optional.
Results showed that participants were most likely to say they would help a team member who was moderately different from them in status.
The real-world study was conducted in a large customer call centre. For the study, 170 employees completed an online survey asking a variety of questions.
Included was a question asking each employee to list co-workers who regularly came to them for help and co-workers whom they regularly went to seeking help.
In this real-world office, the finding of the first study was confirmed. Workers were most helpful to teammates who were just the right distance away as far as status goes -- not too close and not too far.
The findings might be useful when assigning people to train new employees.