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Ethics: A Good Reason To Sit Further Away From Your Boss (telegraph.co.uk) 85

schwit1 writes to point out an interesting finding about ethics in the workplace, but one that might not surprise anyone in the vast majority of workplaces: namely, that sitting far from your boss has some important advantages when it comes to stopping the spread of unethical behavior; ethics are a chief focus of researcher Gijs van Houwelingen . The research, published in the Journal of Management, sought to find out "how spatial distance between higher and lower management" affects the spread of behaviour and fair procedures in the work place.

"Distance is a very useful tool that can be used to stop negative behaviours from spreading through an organization,... It creates the freedom to make up your own mind."

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Ethics: A Good Reason To Sit Further Away From Your Boss

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  • Avoidance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alzoron ( 210577 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:25PM (#51022407) Journal

    Sounds to me like it's just avoiding the core issue; the boss is a terrible boss and should be replaced. Of course if the company is just rotten to begin with all the way up the management chain you can't really expect this to happen. In that case you should try distancing yourself from the whole company instead of just the management.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Rot at the core spreads outward.

      Be that as it may, there is a high over representation of outright evil people in positions of leadership, since they are far more driven to obtain power than morally-normal people. The greater the position of wealth/power, the more likely that the person who holds it will abuse it for his own gain, to the detriment of others.

      And even when morally-normal people obtain power, the power quickly corrupts them.

      That's just how it works. Even Frodo will fall eventually.

      • Re:Avoidance (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TWX ( 665546 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @04:09PM (#51022785)
        On the other hand, being away from one's boss is a good way to not get recognition for even large accomplishments, while those that are close to the boss, providing that the boss likes them as people, move up and get the perks because even doing their normal duties gets them recognition.

        I've known two people that served in the US military, one in the Marines and one in the Navy. Both observed that officers and enlisted that worked closely with the CO moved up much faster than those that did field work. Those that did the most real work and were good at it were passed over. On top of that, sometimes displaying vulnerability and weakness, if the right kinds of those, could move up out of sympathy when they were arguably worse candidates.

        So maybe don't get the office next to your boss or the cube right outside of his door, but if you want to move up don't be on the other side of the building either.
        • Re:Avoidance (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @04:44PM (#51022889) Homepage

          "Those that did the most real work and were good at it were passed over."

          It seems they were not good at observation. If you are really good at your job, you WILL NOT BE PROMOTED. you need to be medicore at your job and good at ass kissing to get promoted. It has been this way from the beginning of time.

          Too many people buy into the lie that if you are really good at what you do you will be rewarded. you are never rewarded, you are kept right where you are to do your job really well and make others look good.

          • Re:Avoidance (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hummassa ( 157160 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @05:37PM (#51023055) Homepage Journal
            True enough. In Admin 101 we learn that when you promote everyone that is good at his job, you end up with everyone at the position they suck the most... then you tank the entire firm because of that. RAISE. If someone is good at their job, the right way of reward them is to raise their salary (you can even compute how much they contribute more to the earnings of the firm, and raise them accordingly), not to "promote" them. That is triply-true in tech companies, because middle management sucks, but BEING middle management sucks more (which probably is a reason why middle management sucks so much).
            • Despite the many other issues it has, IBM at least has a Business Track and a Technical Track.

              While the Business rank usually surpasses an equivalent technical rank, it is nice to see a senior Distinguished Engineer tell a VP to stop interfering in the technical decisions, and have the rank to make it stick.

              While I rarely have to do it, I outrank many of the PMs I work with these days. Most are perfectly willing to accept my technical expertise and leadership. Those rare times they don't, I can pull rank an

            • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

              Sadly giving people raises is no longer taught at admin 101.

          • This is not true if develepors in my experience...we have tons of metrics that decide it.

        • I've known two people that served in the US military, one in the Marines and one in the Navy. Both observed that officers and enlisted that worked closely with the CO moved up much faster than those that did field work.

          It's actually the other way around. The boss (CO) sees people who have potential, and moves them into positions next to him. They didn't get there by accident.
          How did he see that potential? Because they were good to start with, and visibly demonstrated that potential.

          To continue to move u
          • It's actually the other way around.

            If the world were perfect, it would be. However, in my experience, it doesn't work that way. I saw numerous people who were good at the social game and spotlighting (performing well when someone is looking) get ahead. I've even seen people who simply looked the part (tall and athletic) be promoted faster than those who was better than them in literally every test - practical and paper.

            I was even on a board for a meritorious promotion and I was the sole person against one of the selections who got along w

            • This happens in organizations that have technical staff and management staff mixed together in the same evaluation pool.

              Both groups need to be evaluated on different criteria and not compete for the same positions in the organization.

              That said, I know I have been held back because someone with better people skills than me was actively sabotaging my accomplishments. When I found out (BCCed by someone who had integrity) I left the organization and did much better at the new company than the old.

              I have since

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        I don't think so. There are plenty of "evil" people at the lower levels too, and they tend to be more than happy to abuse the system.
        The difference is that the damage they can do is limited. And while they may have more will to climb the ladder than others, it is compensated by the fact that their ascension may come to an abrupt stop as their real intentions are discovered.

        • And while they may have more will to climb the ladder than others, it is compensated by the fact that their ascension may come to an abrupt stop as their real intentions are discovered.

          I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read this. That is one of the most naive statements I have read in a long time. Psychopaths like other psychopaths because they are very useful to help maintain their power. Who do you think stays in power the longest? A psychopath surrounded by decent people who would call the

    • Re:Avoidance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:40PM (#51022449) Journal
      Unethical boss? Distance yourself from the company.
      When a company rips its customers off, you can be sure as night follows day, that it will rip you off soon.
      • I get around this problem completely. I never go to meetings.

    • Re:Avoidance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:42PM (#51022459)

      It also has the reverse effect, when you have an ethical boss and underlings who think the boss is 'naive' the distance allows them to behave unethically as long as the boss doesn't find out.

      • This is a very important factor to study, especially because the higher bosses blame "bad apples" at the bottom nearly 100% of the time, whereas in reality there are probably bad apples at each level depending on the particular company.

      • Re:Avoidance (Score:5, Insightful)

        by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @04:10PM (#51022791)

        "It also has the reverse effect"

        Of course it is. The article's conclusion is naive at best and stupid at worst since the real conclusion is "being near the boss facilitates being at boss' reach" which, of course, is a platitude.

        You, as a hire are in one of two situations: you either are happy with your position or you are not.

        If the former you don't want to be too near to the boss to avoid the chance of being a pawn on his intrigues (if you are OK chances if you move is to the worse), but not so far away that he forgets why is he paying you.

        If the later, you are either trying to climb the ladder, in which case you definitely want to be near your boss you maximize your chances of promotion (at a higher chance of screwing up, either really or in his perception) or you are trying to get out of the company, in which case you, yes, want to be as far from your boss as possible to maximize the chances he forgets about you.

        Now, you don't need a study to probe the obvious but, if any, to disprove this "common sense" approach.

        • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

          All it shows is that people are influenced more by the people around them than by people far away.

          The real interesting point here is that they're essentially saying that, by definition, upper management is unethical.

          • "All it shows is that people are influenced more by the people around them than by people far away."

            No, it isn't. The between-the-lines message is that bosses somehow tend to be more sociopathic than average and you can "catch" his sociopathy by being near him. But then, it tends to be more minions than bosses so the expected conclusion of your premise would be that bosses tend to behave more ethically the nearer to their people they are instead of the other way around.

            So, if anything, it shows that peop

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Define "unethically" because that is a huge enigma that means something different to every single person you talk to.

        • It's a moving target that changes between situations/societies/circumstance. There is no 'one definition fits all' but something tells me you already know that and are just trying to provoke something, likely to justify your own actions.

    • I guess the core of what you are saying is, "You don't need to submit to unethical people. Take control and responsibility for your life." Either change the situation or leave.....you have the power to do that.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Actually, this points out another possible explanation -- that distance is the effect of ethical behavior rather than the cause. This is not necessarily because the boss explicitly or intentionally demands unethical behavior from his subordinates. Often it's because bad bosses like to surround themselves with yes-men and toadies.

    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      This is all well and good when you're working in our field (ie: computers) where you can find another job by just snapping your fingers. When you live in a remote area in some other field, your boss is often the guy that holds you by the balls, bacause another job is not really an option.

      • If you believe yourself not to have options, you don't.

        Is it really true that a small town factory is the only employer possible for their employees? Did jobs exist before that business opened? Are there roads connecting this remote village to other villages with different employers? It is a totally failed argument that has been attempted many times.

        Remoteness rarely restricts employment opportunity, because humans are rarely prohibited from travel. Rather, it is the belief in a lack of opportunity, also kn

        • Is it really true that a small town factory is the only employer possible for their employees?

          Uh, yeah, sometimes.

          Did jobs exist before that business opened?

          Sometimes no, the town got built around the factory. Sometimes yes, but those businesses are gone.

          Are there roads connecting this remote village to other villages with different employers?

          So what, walk to the next town over and be a homeless person?

          • Is it really true that a small town factory is the only employer possible for their employees?

            Uh, yeah, sometimes.

            Did jobs exist before that business opened?

            Sometimes no, the town got built around the factory. Sometimes yes, but those businesses are gone.

            Are there roads connecting this remote village to other villages with different employers?

            So what, walk to the next town over and be a homeless person?

            Exactly, you skip right over even trying to find a job, because you don't believe in the possibilities. So that is your "plan," to be homeless without trying. Ignorance wins every time it wants to.

            And by-the-way, very very few factories were there before the town. Most businesses are located near people, not the other way around. Even when there is a remote resource being extracted, the vast majority of the factories using that resource will be located near a regional population center. Follow the people to

    • by drolli ( 522659 )

      The core issue about unethical behaviour in companies is that it's not a thing of being good or evil, but it's a group behavior. if the CEO and the upper management sit together and take lunch together, it's more likely that they will

      a) affect the perception of reality of the other person e.g. the proprity of a problem will not be determined unbiased any more.

      b) know more of the dirt of the other person which may make them feel that certain level of unethical behavior is ok.

      c) form some kind of group 'we ag

    • Ethics are a complex set of issues. The higher execs tend to work with big picture ideas. This often means ignoring the needs of the little guy. They may go we need to cut costs 25% otherwise the company cannot compete and will be out of business within a few years.
      The middle manager will need to figure out how to cut cost 25% meaning they will decide if they need to lay off workers or cut benefits or find other ways to save money without affecting profit.
      The normal workers can focus on performance their

    • Ahh so putting more space between the bananas, stepladder & water cannon works
  • When I worked for a company that relocated to a new building, HR took a survey to find out what employees wanted in the new office. Number 1 request: sitting far, far away from the supervisors. One of the supervisors had a habit of shooting up the blinds with an Airsoft BB gun, sending everyone to cover whenever he popped up above his cube. (We got back at him on his birthday by blocking off his cube entrance and dumping 64 cubic feet of packing peanuts inside, which took him a week to dig out.) The supervi
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:42PM (#51022455)

    The corporate goal of overcoming that annoying ethics thing has been achieved!

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:48PM (#51022481) Journal
    Sitting farther away from the boss reduces unethical behavior. Why is that a good reason? What makes you think the employees want to reduce the unethical behavior of their bosses?
    • Because they're usually the ones who get to suffer from it?

      • No, not in the banks. They use a circular loop of deniability. They have found a perfect way to commit perfect crime.
        • Every corporation can play that game. Everyone has someone else to blame for any atrocity, nobody is accountable, neither morally nor legally. That's why the system works: Intelligence without consciousness.

    • Ooh, insightful! Why wouldn't you rather suck up to your boss, take part in the unethical behavior and climb the corporate ladder?

  • Corruption is always directly related to proximity.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense--I mean if you're sitting next to your boss's office and he constantly gives the best bonuses and promotions to his mini-mes and fast tracks and talks about it in front of his office all the time. You'd be stupid not to do anything about it since you are at an unethical disadvantage.

    Study should have concluded that corporate life operates on quid pro quo. It's true. The ethical conclusions have been well known since the industrial revolution.

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @02:59PM (#51022515)

    For one thing this isn't about sitting far away from your boss, the study was about managers being more likely to treat their subordinates the way their own bosses treat them when they sit closer to them. The /. summary actually seems to understand this a little better.

    But the more confounding thing was when they were talking to the researchers.

    The study demonstrated that when someone works near their manager, they also feel psychologically closer to them, and the opposite was true at larger distances.

    "We saw that the more distant someone is, they’re less likely to identify with their boss or describe themselves in relation to their boss," van Houwelingen said.

    [...]

    "Distance is a very useful tool that can be used to stop negative behaviours from spreading through an organization," he said "It creates the freedom to make up your own mind."

    But I don't see why they're only talking about negative behaviour since positive behaviour should also spread by the same mechanism. Perhaps upper management is more likely to spread negative things, or the cost of Enrons is too great to offset the benefit of really functional organizations, but I wish they had at least acknowledged the possibility.

    • But I don't see why they're only talking about negative behaviour since positive behaviour should also spread by the same mechanism. Perhaps upper management is more likely to spread negative things, or the cost of Enrons is too great to offset the benefit of really functional organizations, but I wish they had at least acknowledged the possibility.

      Sure, but as the guys on the factory floor can tell you, "shit always rolls downhill." It is the first thing to look at. Don't presume that studies are intended to be definitive; they never are, they're always incremental. I agree they might not have asked the most important question first, but they did ask about one of the most commonly perceived aspects of the topic, which is a normal place to start.

      • But I don't see why they're only talking about negative behaviour since positive behaviour should also spread by the same mechanism. Perhaps upper management is more likely to spread negative things, or the cost of Enrons is too great to offset the benefit of really functional organizations, but I wish they had at least acknowledged the possibility.

        Sure, but as the guys on the factory floor can tell you, "shit always rolls downhill." It is the first thing to look at. Don't presume that studies are intended to be definitive; they never are, they're always incremental. I agree they might not have asked the most important question first, but they did ask about one of the most commonly perceived aspects of the topic, which is a normal place to start.

        Though I think that's also a bias on the part of the guys on the factory floor, the job of the manager is literally to tell you what to do, your default reaction will be to reject that. Even external things beyond the manager's control will end up attributed to them as the conduit.

        I do get that the study could, and should, only look at one narrow question (ie do the negative behaviours spread). But I think my opposition is to their implication that it's the only relevant question and organizations should sp

    • Ya, to me this just seems to be saying that if you own or operate a company, physical proximity to your employees is something you would want to increase.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now I have a way to pitch work from home =D

  • The best reason to sit farther away from my boss is that she's farther away.

    And yes, it's "farther", not "further". In general "farther" is used for distance or physical separation, while "further" is used for time and position in a process or event.

    For the sake of correctness, use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for metaphorical, or figurative, distance. The easy way to remember the difference is that “farther” has the word “far” in it, and

  • The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.

    I used to work at a remote site in a utility company whose local management's bad behaviour essentially ended the company.

  • by overlook77 ( 988190 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @09:17PM (#51023891)
    Really depends on the situation, but I've observed that people that sit closer to their manager end up developing more friendships with them which has obvious advantages. If a manager has a lot of direct reports, they will probably interact with the people closest to them out of convenience. More interactions and visibility with someone's manager allows them to showcase their strengths more often and talk about what they are working on. It also will increase their chances that their boss will be more empathetic towards them. However, if you are lazy and/or a screw-up and you just want to coast by, obviously sit far away from the manager (and everyone else for that matter). If you are concerned with upward mobility, you don't want to be some silent, nameless face in a far corner in the office unless your output is 100% of your job performance and your manager is staying well aware of your work. However, networking/relationship building is usually the best way to be "successful" in an office.
  • Being close to the boss means a higher probability of a head popping in with "can you quickly...", plus noise if you're in a cubicle (endless chatting.)

  • OK, I can understand that if your boss is located a long way away, it's far easier to spend the entire day goofing off - playing Facebook, chatting, drinking coffee, arriving late / leaving early and talking on the phone to your friends and family. (and this works for bosses, too).

    However, it makes it impossible to eavesdrop on their conversations and phone calls or see what they leave lying around on their desks. I have also found that with my boss in the same cluster of desks I get to answer her desk p

    • There must be a happy medium somewhere - far enough that they're not constantly looking over your shoulder, but close enough that you can move in closer when the need/opportunity arises.

  • Using the word 'ethics' here is inappropriate, the article (and the referenced study) really has very little to do with ethics, other than a vaguely defined 'unfair' behavior. It's not like the boss was stealing so nearby employees magically became more likely to steal.

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