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January 24, 2020 Friday 12:46:14 PM IST

How your co-workers can influence your skills

Teacher Insights

New research by Harvard’s Growth Lab highlights that teams and coworkers play a vital role when it comes to one’s productivity, earning potential, and stays of employment. The research was published last month in journal Science Advances and analyzed administrative data on the 9 million inhabitants of Sweden. The research assessed the importance of the skills of coworkers by constructing networks of complementarity and substitutability among specific educational tracks. It found that to earn high wages and returns on education, workers must find coworkers who complement, but not substitute, them. The returns to having complementary coworkers are large: The impact is comparable to having a college degree.

The research offers a tool to assess the “right” and “wrong” coworkers in fields of expertise. The “right” coworkers are those with skills you lack, yet needed to complete a team. The “wrong” coworkers are those who replicate your skillset and ultimately lower your value to the employer.

The benefits of working with complementary coworkers are not the same for all workers, said Frank Neffke, Growth Lab research director. Those with higher levels of education seem to benefit much more from working in complementary teams than workers with lower levels.