“Gendered peer effects”

I read an interesting article this week, “Gendered Peer Effects”.  Though this article is about schools and student performance, I feel the points mentioned can be directly related to all organizations and what they need to do to make sure they reach their goals.  The main topic of the article is how the “bad peers” in a group, in this case a classroom of students, has the largest effect on the performance of that group.  “We show that a large fraction of “bad” peers at a school – as identified by students in the bottom 5% of the ability distribution – negatively and significantly affects the cognitive performance of other schoolmates.” This should present an important new goal for management: how do they deal with the bottom 5%?While this article is only about students, I would like to see some data as to what effect the bottom 5% of performers has on other types of organizations.  If these “bad” peers have a greater negative effect that positive effect of good peers then management must shift its attention.  Instead of focusing on everyone at once, management could save money and time by only worrying about the bottom 5% of workers.  By narrowing their focus to this smaller group of people, they could address issues more quickly and efficiently and still significantly improve the organizations performance.

On the other side of the spectrum, the study showed that the top 5% of students did not have a significant positive impact on the other members of the class.  This further demonstrates that if these findings hold true for all organizations, that management should focus heavily on the worst performers and not on the best.

I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I think this would hold true for all organizations.  I agree with the point about how the top 5% has a very small impact on others, but I don’t know about the bottom.  Obviously the article is about a classroom and obviously about children.  I think the age plays a big part in the study, but I’m not sure it is the only reason.  Thinking about my summer job (I worked at a summer camp), I agree that the bottom 5% of our counselors definitely had a negative effect on the rest of us. (I obviously wasn’t in the bottom 5%…)  I was wondering if anyone else had any kind of experience with this at their jobs and/or internships.

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3 Responses

  1. Just speaking from past experience I would agree that the bottom 5% of workers would have a greater impact than the top 5%. The top 5% of workers in companies I have worked for seem to go above and beyond what their responsibilities entail. They do things that other workers might not see because they are always one step ahead of everyone else and like to take the initiative to get things done. On the other hand, the bottom 5% would definitely affect the other workers. If these bottom 5% do not accomplish their assigned work, other people within the company must pick up the slack and will probably be upset over the fact that they have to do more work.

  2. I think you have touched on a very important idea dealing with upper level management in an organization. How do you motivate the bottom 5% of your work force? The same motivation does not work for everyone. For example, I am a very extrinsically motivate person, meaning I am motivate through visible goals or awards. If there are clear goals and performance incentives, I tend to try much harder. Other people are more intrinsically motivated, meaning the completion product alone is enough to motivate the worker to work even harder the next time. A manager, or teacher in this case, must balance these ideas and make sure to develop a strategy that will help motivate the lower 5%.

  3. I agree that the bottom 5% has a greater impact than the top 5%. I also worked as a camp counselor and witnessed the bottom counselors roaming around the camp, talking with and distracting other counselors from supervising their campers. The top 5% counselors were responsible enough to keep an eye on the kids anyway.

    This goes for the kids too. It was not uncommon for the nice, quiet, respectful kids to join in with the trouble makers. Usually, the only way to get the bottom 5% campers to behave like the top 5% was with incentives (candy).

    I agree with Ross that incentives must be considered. If all the counselors/ workers make the same wage without any incentives, then there’s no motivation to act as a top5% worker when a bottom 5% worker has more fun (except for intrinsic motivation).

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