Pairing Workers and the Spillover Effect

Often cleaning contractors pair cleaning workers to help make their work move along faster and help reduce worker fatigue.  While this can prove helpful in many ways and certainly be cost savings for the contractor, we might be able to get more out of this “pairing” of the workers than we realize.

If used correctly, it can help enhance overall employee productivity; improve the work quality of all workers; and inspire more of a team approach to cleaning, which helps make cleaning much more effective.

I call these results of pairing workers the “spillover,” and it works something like this.  Let’s say we have cleaning worker A who has proven himself to be a very fast worker.  However, A’s shortfall is that he is not as careful as we need.  He’s quick, but work quality is sometimes lacking.

Cleaning worker B it’s almost the opposite.  She moves slowly through her work, but is much more careful and detailed.  The customer is always happy with her work, but she lags behind the others, so the contractor must give her smaller areas to clean.  This can prove to be a costly problem for the contractor.

Let’s pair A with B. Sure enough, and over time, our speedy A slows down, and our careful B speeds up.  And overall, their work is now performed faster and quality has also been elevated. 

I have seen pairing and the spillover that results prove very effective in many cleaning situations.  However, why it works may be more involved than we realize.

True, worker A probably does learn how to be more detailed and work a bit slower as a result of working with B.  On the other hand, employee B likely learns how to speed up her work, if for no other reason to keep up with A.  But there is something much more at play here.

According to researchers now preparing a study on this subject entitled, “Organizational Design and Space: The Good, the Bad, and the Productive,” what is happening has little to do with one worker educating the other worker. Instead, it has much more to do with each worker inspiring the other, along with some good old fashion peer pressure.

To conduct their study, the researchers paired employees working in a technology company. They sat a highly productive worker that sometimes makes mistakes with a slower worker whose quality is always very high. The two had to work together to accomplish their tasks.

Watching the highly productive worker perform his duties inspired the slower worker to pick up some speed and vice versa, the faster worker, slowed down, which improved his accuracy.  However, if the slower worker moved too slow or the faster worker made too many mistakes, the other worker would pressure the other to get back on track.

The researchers reported that by pairing the workers, overall performance, which included both worker productivity and quality, was boosted by as much as 15 percent. 

They also estimated that as a result of the pairing and the spillover, in a 2,000-person company, this could add up to as much as much as $1 million in annual profits.

“For organizations looking to increase their returns on the human capital of their workforce, just rearranging employees may be one of the most cost-effective resources at their disposal,” they concluded.

Most cleaning contractors can identify who on their staff is an A worker and who is a B.  They also may have workers we can call “C.”  These workers are average in both worker productivity as well as overall quality. However, the researchers also found that even when we mix C workers with A or B employees, spill over occurs and performance, productivity, as well as quality improves.

The bottom-line is this. The pairing of cleaning workers can have many benefits.  But do not pair randomly.  Try to pair workers with different strengths. Very often the spillover discussed here will occur, which can prove very beneficial for everyone, customer, contractor, and staff.

Ron Segura is founder and president of Segura & Associates, an international janitorial consulting company based in the U.S.  He has over 45 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry with ten of those years spent overseeing the cleaning of over 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company.  Ron can be contacted through his company website at

Reference: Organizational Design and Space: The Good, the Bad, and the Productive; by Michael Housman and Dylan Minor; Condensed version in the Harvard Business Review, July/August 2017; full version was written in October 30, 2016