The impact of hierarchy on informal communication: Evidence from a field study

Ramon Lecuona Torras, Jonathan Cummings, Duke, FUQUA
How does hierarchy affect informal communication between co-workers? We empirically address this question by exploiting a shock that introduced (semi-random) variation in the communication costs between 105 employees of the headquarters of a Mexico-based multinational –i.e. the relocation of co-workers into a new office space where their physical location relative to other co-workers (including their direct boss) was determined by a lottery and not merely by the nature of work interdependencies. Our preliminary findings suggest that hierarchy ‘crowds out’ informal interactions between peers, even when communication is work-related. Namely, co-workers who are within closer proximity to their direct boss are less likely to sustain informal conversations with peers. We suggest that these effects are partly attributed to (often unintended) monitoring that is inherent to supervisor-coworker relations. We exploit the richness of our empirical setting to develop conceptual explanations for our findings and discuss the implications for managers.
October, 17 2016 | 12:45 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | Gross Hall 230E

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