Worrying about what other people think at work is something women have to contend with far more than men, a small new study suggests.

The experiment included only 32 participants, but e-conomists in Germany say their "clear and consistent" findings are thorough evidence of a newly-identified gender discrepancy.

Experiments have found that when people are placed in pairs, the contributions of both male and female workers depend on how they feel about their female partner. Basically, the authors explain, in pretty much every interaction a woman has in the workplace, 'likeability' is either an asset or a hurdle.

"For men, on the other hand, likeability matters only if they interact with the opposite sex," they add.

In all-male groups, being likeable was neither an asset nor a hurdle. In the study, male participants cooperated and coordinated to the same extent, regardless of their feelings towards one another. Only in mixed groups did they appear more sensitive to the perceptions of others.

"As soon as one of them (or both) is a woman, however, the situation changes," the authors describe.

"Then, likeability considerations become relevant, turning low likeability into a disruptive factor - in a sense an exogenous 'hurdle' - that impedes successful co-operation and reduces performance outcomes. Women always face this potential hurdle, men don't."