This is the fifth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
Do people perform better when working with friends or do their friends distract them from doing their job well? Does the effect depend on their personality traits? I investigate these questions in the context of a seafood-processing plant in Vietnam in which several workers perform the identical task – cleaning and filleting fish -- at 4-person tables in a processing room. I collaborated with the management to design and implement a field experiment in which employees were randomly assigned to positions within the room each day. I use random variation in a worker’s proximity to friends to estimate the effect of working with friends on job performance. Before the experiment, I administered a baseline survey to collect information on employees’ friendship ties and personality characteristics. I find that employees are less productive when working with friends but only when friends are close enough to socialize with each other. I also find that personality traits matter and explain a significant portion of individual differences in socializing behaviors at work. Conversely, socializing with friends explains a large portion of why workers with certain personality traits – notably, conscientiousness – are more productive workers.