It’s no secret that most companies strive for some level of conformity in the workplace, whether that’s to fit a specific image or to adhere to a certain set of values or considerations. Unfortunately, it may be doing more harm than good. By requiring employees to conform to certain standards or expectations, organizations can actually be hurting themselves instead, creating an environment of disengagement and apathy. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how a focus on fitting in can lead to a workplace crisis—one that is not just bad for morale, but is bad for business.
Defining Conformity in the Workplace
Conformity in the workplace refers to the expectation that employees act, think, and behave in a certain way. At a minimal level, this includes things like following the company’s policies and procedures or adhering to particular dress codes.
Much of this is understandable; managers may feel the need to require employees to conform to certain standards in order to maintain a level of professionalism, consistency, and uniformity, or to feel like they are part of a team and share a common purpose and goals. In some cases, conforming may even help create a sense of camaraderie and belonging amongst coworkers.
However, there is a downside to requiring this compliance. When expectations are too rigid or standardized, it can lead to a number of problems.
Problem 1: Loss of Identity
Not surprisingly, when there is an expectation of conformity at work—especially to a great extent—individual identity can often be lost. Employees may feel pressured to conform to the norms and expectations that the company sets out, which can lead to a sense of loss of individuality. This can also be felt as a lack of authenticity, as employees feel like they must fit into a certain mold to remain accepted in the workplace.
Unfortunately, this can manifest in various ways, from an employee feeling a lack of control in their work, to an inability to share their own creative ideas and contributions in team settings. As a result, this can be damaging for morale and engagement, as employees may feel restricted from expressing themselves and showing their true colors, and ultimately, lead to feelings of stagnation and disconnection from the company and their role within it.
Problem 2: Lack of Diversity
When conformity is required in the workplace, there is a tendency for organizations to become homogenous. When that happens, it’s far more likely for “groupthink” to also take hold, leading to a lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to diversity of thought and experience.
It doesn’t take long for this to become a spiraling problem: as the company becomes more homogenous, people become more concerned about fitting in. Then, they may be less likely to express their own unique perspectives and ideas, resulting in an overall decrease in diversity as employees from different backgrounds feel less comfortable expressing themselves and speaking up. This, in turn, leads to even further homogeneity within the organization.
This absence of diversity poses a further problem for businesses. Unchecked, it can stifle creativity and innovation, and without a variety of different ideas, businesses can become stuck in ruts and unable to explore new possibilities.
Problem 3: Employee Disengagement
Predictably, when team members are faced with a dwindling identity and a lack of diversity among their peers, they are also more likely to become frustrated and demotivated along the way.
For example, research has found that when people are required to comply with rules and regulations at work, they tend to be less engaged. They also report feeling less autonomous and less motivated to do their job well. As a result, they often experience a decreased sense of commitment and loyalty to their employer. In many ways, a focus on conformity is even stronger than rules compliance, in that it targets the individual—requiring them to “fit in” in order to be accepted and valued.
Tips for Managers to Encourage Individuality and Avoid Conformity
As a manager, it’s important to ensure that the workplace encourages individuality and avoids conformity. Employees need to feel valued, appreciated, and respected in order to stay engaged in their work. By allowing employees the freedom to express their own ideas, employers can foster a sense of loyalty and increase productivity levels. Here are a few tips for how to create a culture that embraces diversity and encourages employees to bring their unique perspectives and skills to the table:
1. Lead by example.
Set a good example by promoting diversity in your words and actions. Make sure everyone in the organization understands that everyone’s ideas and perspectives are valued, regardless of their background or position.
2. Allow flexibility.
Give employees the freedom to come up with their own ideas and solutions instead of requiring them to follow a specific set of rules or guidelines. Encourage them to explore their own individual paths instead of blindly following orders.
3. Promote open communication.
Encourage dialogue between employees by creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgment or reprisal.
4. Celebrate differences.
Acknowledge that everyone is different and encourage employees to learn from each other by showcasing their unique skills and experiences. Celebrate success stories that demonstrate how individuals were able to contribute positively to the organization despite their differences.
5. Reward creativity.
Create rewards and recognition programs that recognize creative solutions and fresh ideas. This will give employees the confidence to come up with original solutions instead of just blindly following the status quo.
By implementing these tips, managers can create a workplace culture that celebrates individuality, encourages diversity, and fosters employee engagement. Employees will be more likely to feel valued and motivated when they feel free to express themselves and share their unique perspectives.