Work-Life Imbalance

34:02 minutes

Worried worker beside a successful one who is excited reading good news on line at office
Credit: Shutterstock

Employers tend to design offices and other workspaces to maximize productivity and minimize costs. This is the logic behind the rise of open-plan offices, where few or even no physical barriers stand between employees’ workspaces. And for companies that value collaboration, creativity, and spontaneous innovation, surely reducing physical barriers will foster more productive connections with our colleagues.

Not so fast, write researchers in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. In a study of two large companies, they found that open office plans reduced face-to-face contact and productivity. Study co-author Ethan Bernstein explains why reducing physical privacy might have such a counterintuitive effect. And as we spend more of our time at work, or connected to work by technology, how do we make sure we have healthy relationships with our coworkers? Nancy Rothbard, professor and chair of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, discusses with Ira.

[From greener funerals to “virtual afterlives,” technology is changing our relationship with death.]

Plus, Oregon Health and Science University graduate student Sarah Andrea weighs in on the emotional cost of working for tips—especially if you’re a woman.  

Segment Guests

Ethan Bernstein

Ethan Bernstein is an associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nancy Rothbard

Nancy Rothbard is a professor in and chair of the Management Department at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sarah Andrea

Sarah Andrea is a PhD candidate in Epidemiology at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. Hi. I’m Ira Flatow.

Here at our SciFri offices I have my own office. It’s not bad. I have a window. I can close my door to hold one-on-one meetings with my producers without bothering the rest of the team on these very stressful Friday mornings before we go on the air.

But everyone else is pretty much housed in the fishbowl. You know what I’m talking about. Side by side desks. Little barriers that you can see over if you stand up. And they try to warn each other when they have phone calls scheduled so there aren’t too many people talking at once. Sounds like a great place for spontaneous collaboration and creativity. Right?

Well, that was the idea when the open plan office started to get popular. But how are open plan offices really working out? New research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society this summer takes another look at the claims about open offices. And it’s not looking so good.

Less productivity. Greatly reduced face to face interaction. And more emailing and other indirect contact. What’s going on there?

Joining me is Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School in Cambridge. He’s a co-author on the research. Welcome, Dr. Bernstein.

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.

IRA FLATOW: It’s nice to have you.

Let’s back up a little bit and say, how did open offices get so popular in the first place?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: Open office popularity has ebbed and flowed over really a century. They partly got popular exactly for the reason you suggested. People believed that if you could see other people and be close to them, you would naturally interact with them. You’d collide with people in a way you wouldn’t otherwise. And those collisions would turn into collaborations, would turn into ideas, innovations, and good things for companies.

So that was part of it. And, of course, there was also the cost rationale. The more open our offices are, the more people you can sit in a small space, the lower the cost per square foot.

IRA FLATOW: So it was really an experiment from day one.

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: To some extent, yes. Although, I think the experiment made sense, certainly. Well, 100 years ago we lived in a world in which what you interacted with was what you saw. And we didn’t have the kind of technology we have today to allow interactions to take place electronically. And so it made a lot of sense.


I want to invite our listeners, if they are at an open office space, or if they have words they’d like to talk about, at 844-724-8255 we’d like to hear your experiences.

Also, you can tweet us @SciFri, and we’ll take your Twitter right here.

Now, tell us about what your research found. Maybe that they’re not actually as good for collaboration. Give us some numbers. Fill in some data here.

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So my co-author Stephen Turban and I, we found all of the great things that are said about open offices and all the terrible things that are said about open offices equally compelling. And so we set out to try and study them in a way really no one had been able to do before.

The past time, say, 30 years ago when open offices became really popular, we the academic community went out. We ran surveys. We asked people about their satisfaction with them, about their stress levels in them. And we used those self-reported data to try and understand people’s responses to them.

But that didn’t really answer the question. Do we collaborate more when we’re put in open space with each other? Nowadays you can use sociometric badges, the sorts of badges you can wear around your neck that have all sorts of sensors in them. You can use all the digital breadcrumbs we leave when we send people emails and IMs. You can actually see how much people interact with others at work before and after a move to an open office. And that’s what we did.

And to your point, we found that face to face interaction, despite these vibrant arguments for open offices, actually was reduced in the open space by about 70% in two different fortune 500 corporate headquarters.

IRA FLATOW: Let me just get that right. You said 7-0, 70% reduction?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: 7-0. It was surprising to us. We weren’t necessarily surprised by the direction of the effect. But we were surprised by the degree.

And much of that communication, it didn’t just stop. It just moved online. It actually moved into electronic forms, in email and instant messaging.

IRA FLATOW: Would people actually email and instant message the person next to them in the cubicle?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: It sounds surprising. But then, again, many of us expect these loud, vibrant environments. Then when we look around when people actually move into open offices, what do we see? We see people wearing headphones, staring intently at their computer screens cause everyone can see them. If I see someone across starting intently at their screen wearing headphones, I’m not going to interrupt them. But I’m going to know they’re at their computer. I’m going to say, well, I might as well just send them an email. And to some extent, that’s what our research data showed.

IRA FLATOW: And could you tell about productivity, any changes in this?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: At one of the two contexts we had hints that, at least in the estimation of the executives there, productivity had fallen.

But I’m very careful with that result. Many people seem to want to believe that the study suggests that open offices are bad. It’s going to be a long time at least before we can say bad or good.

But at the very least, these were unintended consequences. These organizations wanted to use the open office to achieve more face to face collaboration, cause they believed that would be good for their business. And they ended up with the opposite.

IRA FLATOW: Wow. That is fascinating. You would think the people in an open place would be more interactive. But 70% decrease. That’s amazing.

We spend a lot of time at work with our coworkers. And it’s natural to form friendships, if you’re in an open office or any kind of office. But what are the pitfalls? It turns out there are more than a few. And here with new research on where work and friendship can become uncomfortable is Nancy Rothbard, a professor and chair in management at the famous Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Welcome Dr. Rothbard.


IRA FLATOW: So let’s talk about workplace friendships. Why are workplace friendships so different from other kinds of friendships or relationships? Or are they?

NANCY ROTHBARD: So workplace friendships are really interesting because they’re like other friendships. But they have this added component, which is that we have a lot of constraints in organizations around what our expectations are, what our goals are that are sometimes at odds with some of the goals of friendship.

So, for example, a lot of times with friendship the primary goal is to support a friend, or to have a relational goal around that relationship being positive. And in the workplace that may be the case, but you also have additional goals of getting the work done, or being instrumental about achieving a particular goal that may have nothing to do with the relationship.

And so it becomes challenging to navigate, sometimes, these competing goals in ways that are both healthy for the friendship, but also good for the work.

IRA FLATOW: So it’s really a challenge for the workers to figure out how to balance those two things.

NANCY ROTHBARD: Absolutely. I think that it often falls to the individual worker to kind of navigate those waters, and figure out how can I nurture my friendship without crossing a line.

But it’s also, I think, incumbent on managers to be aware that those are really challenging dynamics for people, and that they really have to manage those as well as the work itself.

IRA FLATOW: Mhm. Let’s talk about some of the specific things that can go wrong. And to me one of the most obvious is the form of romantic relationships between people in the office space. What are some of the other things that could go wrong?

NANCY ROTHBARD: Yeah. It’s funny that you start there, because I think that is where we all go. Right. We go immediately to where we cross that line. But there are other, even more mundane kinds of things, about friendship that can also pose a problem.

So, for example, just the very simple case of being distracted by a friend at work. So if you’ve got a friend who has a problem, it’s very natural to want to support them, to want to listen to them, to hear them out to make sure they’re OK. But that may conflict with your ability to get your own work done, or if you have a deadline, to meet that deadline or what have you. And so the very mundane aspect of just the pure distraction that it can provide can be really challenging.

It’s also a problem in the context of groups oftentimes. So not just between individual pairs of friends, but in larger groups you can have some interesting dynamics that arise from friendship. And some of that has to do with are there subgroups in a larger group, where you have a clear divide where there are friends that you might see as being natural allies because of their friendship. And that can cause a lot of questions to arise.


We have Ethan Bernstein on the line with us also from Harvard Business School, who was telling us that in the open office environment he found that there was 70% less face to face interaction. Amazing. They thought there would be more interaction.

Does an open office space change the dynamics of a friendship and how those friendships are formed?

NANCY ROTHBARD: I mean, I’m familiar with Ethan’s work. And I think it’s terrific. And I and I think it poses new questions for us about how friendship dynamics play out, as you suggest, Ira.

I think that what’s really interesting there is that friendships can exist either face to face or not face to face. A lot of my work has looked at online social media and how that’s changing the nature of how we relate to one another, especially in terms of friendship types of dynamics.

And I think it’s really kind of fascinating that the open office space, where things are really visible and transparent, can sometimes make us feel more inhibited. And I think the same goes, ironically, for online social media, where the transparency of seeing who is connected to who, and what everybody’s posting, and are you in the in-group or are you not can make some of those dynamics even more challenging and difficult to navigate.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to the phones. 844-724-8255. Let’s go first to Denver. Hi, Julia. Welcome to Science Friday.

JULIA: Hi. Thank you for having me.

IRA FLATOW: All right. Go ahead.

JULIA: So yeah. So I worked remotely for a solar manufacturer. And I was the only person in the Rocky Mountain region. And I found it really isolating. And that challenged my productivity.

So I actually got an office space at the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, which was a co-working space specifically for companies in the realm of sustainability, and for nonprofits. And I actually found that it really boosted my productivity to actually feel like I was part of a community. And to be able to take those occasional breaks and like check in with other people.

And I also found that I ended up building a lot of really important relationships out of my time working there. And you had a lot of groups that were kind of working on different issues, like maybe wild lands restoration. And then you had people working on solar. But they would end up collaborating on things greater than their specific industry as a result of all getting to know each other.

IRA FLATOW: So you found out that– because I was going to go into that direction eventually. What about people who work from home? Or is that more productive versus– But it’s nice to hear from you. You’re saying that you got more productive once you went into sort of a collab situation where everybody shared stuff.

Nancy, what do you think about that?

NANCY ROTHBARD: I think that that’s really an important point. Because I think one of the things that we want to emphasize in the work that we’ve done is that friendships are important. And having relationships with other people can be incredibly energizing. And as you describe, the ability to occasionally take breaks and connect with people, that provides tremendous rejuvenation and recovery for people.

And also the relationships you form can be very helpful in terms of sharing knowledge. So I think that’s actually really critical to acknowledge as a baseline.

And then where our work goes is to say, the problems can come in when people overdo that, or where things get out of hand, or where the boundaries become less clear. And that’s where it just becomes a little tricky to navigate. And what we’re trying to do is to raise awareness about that. But I think that you raise a really important point.

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. Talking about working, and office space, and how you deal with that.

Ethan Bernstein, what’s your reaction to whether it’s better to work alone, or from home, or collaborating with others?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: I thought Julia had a great question that did a nice job of bringing together my research and Nancy’s in this following way. I studied organizations. I studied the ways in which people were working a common open office space within an organization. So they all had interdependent work.

My work was necessarily related to the work across the table from me and down the table from me. And we were all part of the same organization, which, by the way, had the same organizational politics.

When we go into spaces like the co-working spaces, the kind of space that Julia mentioned, or WeWork, or other kinds of co-located, co-working spaces, we’re surrounded by people who look like us, who are probably doing work that’s, to some extent, similar to us. And that’s motivating. And it’s actually very good, potentially, for forming the kind of friendships that Nancy’s studying.

What it doesn’t have is the politics of knowing that if the person across from me approaches me, I really have to respond. I can’t focus on the work that I’m doing, because we’re in the same organization. And for that matter, we probably have a very different relationship within a co-working space than I would within an open office within my organization.

And so it’s actually an important consideration for how you treat our results. Our results are really focused on organizations, not those co-working spaces.

IRA FLATOW: Mhm. A tweet from Sarah who says, “When you’re as social and chatty as I am, open office space is great for making friends, but hard for productivity, especially when you’re a writer like me.” Which sort of seems to reflect what you said.

Ethan, in general, do we have less privacy in the workplace now?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: Oh, absolutely. It’s a combination of physical space and technology. We have far less privacy.

Once upon a time I don’t think we had too much privacy concerns when we were at work. And these days there’s always some degree to which we’re looking for sometimes individual level privacy, like you mentioned, Ira, in your office. But sometimes just group level. We’re looking for spaces where our group can work and talk, and not bother others.

And, by the way, ask HR professionals about the move to open office, and 9 out of 10 of them will probably tell you, the first thing that happens, people start, like Julia, working for home. Because they are looking for privacy, and that’s the easiest way for them to find it. And I’ve heard enough people say, that’s when I get all my best work done.

But this does, again, emphasize when we can create that privacy for ourselves. We might be creating good work. But perhaps, to Nancy’s work, we’re not getting the same opportunities to make friends at work.

IRA FLATOW: I just have time for a quick comment about something called hot desking where no one has a desk. You walk in with your laptop and that’s your desk for the day. Ethan, what do you think of that?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: I haven’t done research on it. There’s some interesting evidence out there, both for and against. I think it really, again, gets to this question of how do we want to use our open offices? Do we want to use them for affiliation? Do we want to use the open office space just for a place to get work done, and then when we want to affiliate with others, we go somewhere else. It depends on how we’re going to use the space.

IRA FLATOW: All right. We’ll come back and talk lots more about it. We have a lot of people who are tweeting and sending us phone calls. The number 844-724-8255.

Stephanie says, “I work in an open office and caught a debilitating flu this year from the woman who sat 18 inches for me. They are terrible for spreading diseases.” We haven’t touched on that. But maybe they are.

We’ll talk all about this open space, closed offices, what your thoughts are. 844-724-8255. We’ll be right back after this break.

This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. We’ve been talking about what new research can tell us about friendship at work, the spaces we work in, and our increasingly transparent and connected work and personal lives. But there are other kinds of challenges that have been around for a long time.

Let’s talk about the service industry, working for tips. It means the customers decide your take home pay. And your economic security can also depend on last minute schedule changes, irregular hours, and putting up with, well, let’s just say some bad behavior.

Which means it might not surprise you to hear women who rely on tips are at a significantly greater risk of depression and other mental health problems. According to new research in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

Here to talk about that new research is Sarah Andre, master of public health and a PhD candidate at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Welcome Sarah.

SARAH ANDRE: Thank you, Ira. It’s a pleasure to be here.

IRA FLATOW: It’s so nice to have you. Let’s talk about why it seems important to look more closely at people who work for tips and their mental health.

SARAH ANDRE: So the workplace can be the source of a variety of stressors. And in the service industry in particular, people are having to deal with things like irregular shift schedules that can change at the last minute, not having access to things like paid leave or health insurance. And on top of that, they’re having to sometimes deal with difficult or hostile customers.

And if you’re a tipped worker, which 4.3 million people in this country are, there’s this added element where in many places you could be paid as little as $2.13 per hour, with this expectation that you’ll make up the difference in tips. But customers can be very unpredictable and discriminatory in their tips.

We know that people earn more in tips if they’re attractive, if they’re white, and even if they’re men.

IRA FLATOW: If they’re men. So you were studying how women were tipped less, and what effect it might have on their mental health?

SARAH ANDRE: So we don’t have that level of information for our study. But other researchers that have looked into this have observed that women are tipped less than men.

IRA FLATOW: That’s interesting.

Who were these workers in your study? How do we know women in tip jobs are more depressed?

SARAH ANDRE: So in our study we are looking at this nationally representative sample of adolescents that have been followed into adulthood. And they’re in their late 20s, early 30s. And the bulk of the folks that were working in these tipped occupations were working as waitresses and bartenders. But there were other things, like nail technicians, hairdressers, and so on in there as well. But the majority were waitresses and bartenders.

IRA FLATOW: And how big a difference did tips versus other kinds of work make in women’s mental health?

SARAH ANDRE: So for depression, we did see that women in these tipped service occupations had 66% greater odds of reporting depression than women in these non-service occupations, like women working as secretaries and offices.

IRA FLATOW: Were you able to understand why women were affected so much more than men?

SARAH ANDRE: So with our data we are limited in making that assessment. However, we do know that women make up the bulk of the tipped workforce. And from other literature out there, we know that customers leave them smaller tips, that women can experience sexual harassment, that they tend to end up in the lower paying tipped occupations.

And in our particular study, we did observe that a greater proportion of the men that were in these tipped occupations had access to things like paid leave and health insurance than the women did, and that they were paid more per hour on average.

IRA FLATOW: There is a lot of public health research out there looking at the health effects of shift work, irregular sleep and stress. Are there enough people looking at the effects of wages?

SARAH ANDRE: I think we could definitely stand to have a few more folks join this investigation, because people are definitely looking more at minimum wage. We’ve got in this country the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

But it has kind of been left out of the conversation in terms of health. It’s been looked at in terms of people experiencing economic hardship. But the health implications of it for the tipped workers have been minimally assessed.

Tip workers in this country, the federal minimum wage for someone in a tipped occupation is $2.13 per hour.

IRA FLATOW: $2.13.

SARAH ANDRE: Exactly. Yeah.

IRA FLATOW: For a tipped wage.

SARAH ANDRE: And this, of course, is something that the state has the ability to mandate a higher wage if they would like to. And some do. But still, a majority of the country has this two tiered minimum wage system in place, where tipped workers are earning less per hour from their employer and relying on the tips from the customers to make up the difference.

IRA FLATOW: Mhm. Now, I know from being in restaurants that there are some that do not allow tips. And they just add the cost of paying their employees better to the price of the food. Is this the solution?

SARAH ANDRE: I mean, it’s possible. I think that it definitely warrants further investigation. Between looking at these different restaurants that have done this, and seeing how their workers are doing both economically and in terms of their health, but also exploring options like doing away with this secondary sort of minimum wage standard for tipped workers.

IRA FLATOW: Is that where you’re going to work next? Is that some more of your study?

SARAH ANDRE: Yeah. So our research team at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health is currently investigating whether increasing the tipped worker wage could improve the health of women. So that is where our eyes are on right now.

IRA FLATOW: That’s interesting. And we wish you good luck in your work, and have you back when you learn some more about it.

SARAH ANDRE: Fantastic. Thank you so much.

IRA FLATOW: Sarah Andre is master of public health and PhD candidate at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Thank you for taking time to be with us today.

And we’re still here with Nancy Rothbard, professor and chair in management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School in Cambridge.

Ethan, Nancy, do you see any important changes coming to the service industry, the tipping people, in any of your research?

NANCY ROTHBARD: It’s actually really fascinating because I’ve done some research on service workers, mainly in the call center space. But I think that the question around tipping is really a fascinating one because it’s a voluntary behavior. And the way that we interact with other people, and the respect and the relationships we form with them really make a big difference in terms of that kind of interaction.

And so I do think there are different expectations of different folks with regard to the relationships. And I was just really fascinated by what she was describing with the implications for health.


Let’s go to the phones. 844-724-8255. Let’s go to Alabama. Michael, welcome to Science Friday.

MICHAEL: Good afternoon. Before I ask my question, oh, how I wish that I could have gotten into your conversations about robots, as I’m a funny animal humanoid memorabilia collector. And along with the other artwork that I do, I work in the MGM, Warner Brothers, Disney, Hanna-Barbera style. And I wanted to ask them about the possibility of humanoid robots in the future that are larger than robo sapiens, such as the WowWee Toys brand.

IRA FLATOW: Well, you’ll just have to wait for the next show.


Do you have a question for us on this topic?

MICHAEL: But there were no callers at the time on the phone bank.

Here’s what I want to ask. I have a home-based business, a home-based studio, although I do work in the service industry in a sense, Christian social work volunteering, especially in art and music therapy. But that’s partly because I was born with a very rare birth autism, and I contracted two mental illnesses later on in my adolescence and college years. And yet, they mention creativity. Collaboration with others is extremely important, not just for those of us in fine arts, entertainment, journalism, advertising, religious and educational media, such as you people in public broadcasting. But for other fields, science, engineering, technology, and medicine, for instance.

But what could be intimidating for coworkers to talk to one another is if one of them– you just mentioned depression in our wonderful and too often undervalued service, and female service employees especially, like at hotels and motels. Have they studied the effects of speech autisms or the less well-known social autisms, like I was born with, or mental illness, and their tendency to intimidate a person because that person’s been criticized, made fun of far too often by peers, and criticized, sometimes punished far too often by authority figures in their childhood and adolescent years?


MICHAEL: The kind I had, they hadn’t even heard of in public schools down here in Alabama in the ’70s.

IRA FLATOW: All right. Michael, I’m running out of time. Let me get an answer for you. Thanks for the question.


NANCY ROTHBARD: So I’m trying to understand. So I think that the crux of that question is, how do you deal with people in terms of social relationships in the workplace where the behavior may not be what is expected by others? And that’s always a challenge for both coworkers and managers. And I think that it’s something that is particularly important to manage as a boss. If you do see people who are having trouble relating to others and are not seeming to be included.

The other piece that I got out of that question was the question about collaboration. And I think that it’s really important to distinguish collaboration from friendship. I think that we can collaborate a lot of times with people who we’re not necessarily close friends with. And it’s really important that we’re able to do so. That’s one of the aspects of friendship at work that I think is really different from friendship in other contexts. Because one of the pieces about what makes the workplace unique is that we often do have to collaborate with people who we’re not friends with. And we have to be able to get along with them, and respect them, and treat them in professional ways.

And I think that that links to what Ethan was saying earlier about office politics and the difference between being in an organization where we’re all playing by the same rules, versus a co-working space where there is perhaps more informal interactions between people, and there’s not the same expectations around collaboration. And so I think that that’s actually a really important piece for us to remember and keep in mind when we’re thinking about social relationships at work.

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios.

Ethan, how do you react to our caller and his concerns about how people react to him, and other people who might pass judgment on people who have some sort of mental challenges?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: I have two responses. The first is quick, which is there is just so much room for more research on mental health in the workplace. And that may, indeed, be a place to go with some of this research on open offices going forward.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any evidence to share on that. But I do have on this topic of collaboration that he brought up, and that Nancy’s picked up on, Nancy identified the difference between collaborating for productivity and creating friends at work.

I’ve done another study with professors Jesse Shore and David Lazar up here in Boston on what makes for valuable collaboration. And on the one hand, yes, we need to be interacting with people to be collaborating with them well. On the other hand, our research shows that intermittent collaboration is actually much more valuable for problem solving, the kind of complex problem solving that most of us do at work, than constant interaction is.

And so quality collaboration may actually not be constant interaction. It may be some degree of interaction and some degree of isolation. And that may actually be a difference between office spaces 50 years ago, where we would have been struggling to get the interaction we want, and office spaces today where this gentleman and others might be trying to find polite ways to disengage for a little bit of time and then engage later.

IRA FLATOW: In other words, if you give each other time to breathe and think independently, some idea may pop into your head.

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: Well, if we’re all collaborating or interacting all the time, then collaboration actually looks a lot like copying. If we’re solving a problem, if somebody has a good idea, we just take the idea and run with it. Why create more?

As opposed to, if we actually give ourselves some time apart, we’ll spend a little bit more time generating new ideas, being a little bit more creative. When we come back together we’ll have more to share. And actually, the best of us might learn more from the lower performing of us, because the lower performing of us may have come up with some ideas that help the best of us [INAUDIBLE] in their solutions to the problem.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s see if we can get one more call in from Erin in Bay Area, California. Hi Erin.

ERIN: Hi. Can you hear me?

IRA FLATOW: Yes. Go ahead.

ERIN: OK. So I loved that last point about intermittent, having both. Because my point is that for introverts open office spaces are really terrible for mental health and for productivity. And Susan Kane actually detailed some of the research in her book, Quiet, talking about how we need that time to concentrate on our own to be productive.

And then also, I mean, for an introvert, it’s just completely overstimulating to be in that kind of environment.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I have a tweet from Catherine who says, “Was the open space design done by an extrovert? As an extreme introvert that kind of office space sounds awful.” So you seem to be agreeing with that.

Let me get a comment. What do you think about that, Ethan?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN: I think we should go back and see if the original inventor of the open office was an extrovert to [? the ?] MBTI and see where that goes.

It’s an interesting question. Unfortunately, in our case we weren’t able to tease apart the different personality types of the people working in our spaces.

I’m familiar with Susan Kane’s work. It’s fabulous. But obviously what we do think is there is this degree to which giving people some option– of course, collectively giving them the option to intermittently work in each would be valuable, at least for the collaboration and productivity side.

Interesting question, I guess, perhaps, for Nancy, is whether that’s true on the friendship side as well. Do friendships also need time together and time apart to grow well?

IRA FLATOW: Nancy, what do you say?

NANCY ROTHBARD: I think that’s a great point that Ethan makes. Because friendships are really– if we’re together all the time, then there’s no new information to bring. There’s no new experiences to share. And so that kind of alternating between togetherness and apartness I think is a really important rhythm of friendships.

And one of the things that also is really interesting to me about this point about introversion and extroversion is that it’s really important to recognize that introverts have very deep friendships. It’s just that they may develop and be nurtured in different ways than extroverts.

IRA FLATOW: All right. I’m going to have to end it right there.

NANCY ROTHBARD: So it’s really important to think about that.

IRA FLATOW: All right, Nancy. Thank you. I’m sorry. We’ve run out of time.

Nancy Rothbard, professor and chair in management at the Wharton School. Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of business administration at Harvard.

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About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor was a producer for Science Friday. Her days involved diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they have any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

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