Conformity in the workplace: Friend or Foe?
Posted: 23 January 2015 at 11:28 am | Author: Laura Morris
Conformity is the tendency to align your attitudes, beliefs and behaviours with those around you1.
Is this natural impulse something to be welcomed in the workplace, or can it have potentially negative effects?
Conformity has been traditionally seen as an innate need in order to ensure that you fitted in with your clan or tribe and was therefore an essential part of survival. Nowadays it may be seen as necessary in order to prevent isolation, as a means to reduce social anxiety and to maintain your individual status2.
Look around you now and I’m sure you can see some readily available examples of conformity in your own workplace. Often dress code is an obvious example, along with simple office etiquette such as the volume of speech, suitable language used and the way in which a telephone is answered. Now look again, how different would your view look if there was no conformity? I’m willing to bet there would be a degree of chaos in the room!
Some level of conformity is perhaps essential, for example paying your taxes needs to be done the same way by everyone or you will have HM revenue knocking on your door! However there are times when it could be considered a little overrated! It is possible that in the workplace some individuals confuse being ‘professional’ with conforming to social norms.
I’m sure most of us have been in a meeting and felt that perhaps we shouldn’t voice our opinion on a certain topic for fear of ridicule or maybe displeasing your boss. But shouldn’t we be looking after our own interests too?
Speaking out can earn disapproving looks from some but you are likely just saying what someone else is thinking. If you have a different opinion, then share it. After all, it has been found that conforming to social norms can actually make people less likely to co-operate whereas those who conform less may be more likely to take the idea and put in the extra effort resulting in greater benefits.3
Having the confidence to speak out is essential in business. Without this new ideas wouldn’t be formed and no progression would occur. The need for affiliation can make you blind to new opportunities. The funny thing is, everyone wants to fit it to a group in order to satisfy their need to feel wanted and accepted, however, once part of this group we are all keen to stand out as an individual. This is because frequently those who are the ‘stand-out’ employees are those that get to gain the personal benefit.
It is clear that whilst conformity may be essential in some areas as it can be beneficial in creating order and even empathy between individuals4, it can also be detrimental by inhibiting creativity and business progress.
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