One Out All Out

Years of research have shown that productivity falls off a cliff if you let people work too long, but a behavioural cocktail of social pressure and bogus common sense have made long hours almost compulsory in some cultures. It’s a well-observed phenomenon, called “presenteeism” – people at work not wanting to leave before others.

But perhaps copying behaviour is the key to breaking this habit, as well as making it. This interesting study (found via Freakonomics) shows that if you let workers see what each other are doing, they’re more likely to leave work at the same time.

I wonder how this might affect brands or other habits.  For example, we know things like obesity cluster around networks but could quitting also follow the same pattern?   Or brand aficionados – for example iPhone die hards – the social effect is sticky to begin with, but if people start to leave then ‘quitting momentum’ could build. On social media the momentum can be dramatic: the rise and fall of MySpace took place over a timeline you’d more usually expect for a boy band.

We normally think of social effects as being good for brands – people see other people using one, and then they copy it. But we rarely consider the flipside – stopping doing something can also be a social action.

(Thanks to Peter Harrison for this post!)

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