4.3 Workplace Influence on Individuality

Describe how the modern workplace can both homogenize/conform behavior, and encourage individuality and personal expression

Photo of a man sitting at a computer desk. He is smiling and has a sticky note on his forehead that reads "Be Happy"Today’s workforce is a balancing act. It is important to promote diverse thinking while also aligning all employees to the company mission and goals. It is important to streamline processes within an organization while also allowing room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. So how can a company successfully balance all of these expectations?

In this section, we will explore a variety of strategies companies can use to become both more unique and more uniform. While this sounds like an oxymoron, it is actually a feasible goal. By outlining acceptable behavior, companies can set guidelines for their non negotiable company standards. It is also important to understand that diversity and individuality are not the same. While they each have their benefits, they should not be used interchangeably. We will also explore different management approaches that can be used to better develop an organization. Finally, with the continued growth of technology in the workplace, it is important to understand how technology can impact organizational behavior. Understanding its influence can help companies to better prepare and adapt to challenges. Let’s jump in and explore conformity versus individuality in the workplace!

Learning Outcomes

  • Examine how individuality and conformity work together in the modern workplace
  • Describe how companies narrow the range of acceptable behavior
  • Describe the individualized management approach
  • Discuss the impact a technology driven workplace has on organizational behavior

Individuality vs Conformity

Diversity and individuality are vital components of today’s workforce. Differing perspectives and experiences have the ability to meld together and create a more productive workplace.

There is a huge push in today’s society for support of individuality in the workplace. The idea behind the importance of promoting individuality is that if people feel supported and have the ability to do their job the way they want to, they are more likely to enjoy their work. Employees with high job satisfaction are more likely to perform better for the company.

Photograph of three people sitting on a bench facing a wall. On the wall are several pictures of individuals of diverse ages, races, genders, and cultures.

Therefore, if a company wants to be more successful, they should let employees do what they want at work, right? Well, not exactly.

Equally as important as diversity is a company’s ability to bond their employees together and work towards common goals and values. To do this, companies need to have regulations and guidelines in place to help streamline and regulate output standards and maintain brand integrity. Therefore, both individuality and conformity are important to modern organizations but balancing the two may prove to be challenging.

Fostering an environment of diversity and individuality is important but it also needs to be done within parameters. Allowing employees to come to work and perform when and how they want to is not conducive to running a successful business. This is where conformity comes into play. Conformity is typically defined as the expectation of employees to adapt to company policies and standards and use traditional business practices to complete job functions. This type of outlook is what gives conformity a bad wrap. Successful conformity in today’s workplace does not include limiting individuality and forcing employees to conform to societal norms. Instead, conformity includes setting boundaries for which employees are expected to complete their job functions. Both the MBO strategy and competency models we discussed in the last section are examples of conformity guidelines to help direct employees towards company goals. In this case, conformity is not the evil villain but is instead a sidekick to help lead employees to reach success and meet expectations.

Practice Question

https://assessments.lumenlearning.com/assessments/13935

As we discussed in Module 3: Ethics In Business, the easiest way to narrow the range of acceptable behavior for ethical concerns is to create and enforce a code of conduct. There are also legal guidelines and standards to consider when making decisions. While these are both great examples of outlining acceptable behavior, there is much more a company can do. Acceptable behavior does not simply mean “right” or “ethical” behavior. It should also include quality of work standards, meeting deadlines, working well on a team, etc. These types of expectations may not be as cut and dry as ethics, but there are tools leaders and organizations can use to help guide their teams to act within the limits of acceptable behavior.

First, let’s explore the idea of Management by Objective (MBO). The main idea behind MBO is the importance of goal setting. MBO can be practiced on varying levels at different organizations. Some companies may follow its outlines very strictly and others may use it as a general guideline when developing goals. In general, the focus of MBO is to have employees and supervisors work together to set clear and realistic goals. Instead of passing down orders from one level to the next, using MBO creates an opportunity for an open dialogue around the task at hand and the best way to accomplish it. (We’ll talk about MBO again in Module 6: Motivation in the Workplace.)

When creating goals within the MBO strategy, it is important to create SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. By using this goal-setting standard, you are able to create realistic goals and have details in place to hold your team accountable to meeting them. Working together to create goals gains the buy-in of everyone involved and helps maintain accountability for those responsible.

Competency models are another way to define and outline acceptable behavior. Competency models define requirements for job success. These requirements include both the knowledge and skills required to perform the job. Many competency models also have varying degrees of success outlined. There are standards set for successfully completing a job and other standards in place to show when an employee goes above and beyond the job expectations. These differing expectations can help a company identify employees that are average versus great.

Competency models are extremely useful to everyone within an organization but specifically within the human resources departments. These models help to create job openings with clear descriptions of what is expected of the candidates. Equally as important, competency models help to develop training and development courses to ensure employees have what they need to be successful in their position. Finally, competency models are used to assess employee performance during employee reviews. Competency models should be discussed and provided on day one and used as a guideline while an employee is performing their job functions. Therefore, reviewing each part of a competency model should easily reveal whether or not an employee met the company’s expectations.

Companies that utilize both MBO and competency models are setting both their managing team and employees up for success. By clearly outlining and discussing expectations and goals, organizations are able to narrow the range of acceptable behavior and minimize confusion. Establishing clear standards and goals makes it easier for companies to identify top performers and also makes it easier to identify employees that need additional assistance or those that may not be a good fit for the organization.

Examples of Conformity in the Workplace

Examples of conformity in today’s workplace include but are not limited to: working hours expectations, dress codes, compensation guidelines, code of ethics, and timely communication expectations. Each of these components may differ from company to company. Companies may also choose to change parts of these guidelines to better meet the needs of their employees.

For example, companies may choose not to have a strict dress code and promote a casual workplace in order to allow people to dress how they prefer. However, that same company may still have dress code regulations in place to prevent people from coming to work barefoot or wearing clothes that are too revealing. Another company may allow their employees to work from home two days a week while still having a 24 hour or less response time in place for all communication. The point is, regulations differ from one organization to the next and may not allow complete freedom for employees to do whatever they want. While employees may advocate for a policy change, they must still follow company guidelines until a change has been made or they may face consequences.

Practice Question

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It is important to keep in mind that when applying for any job there are certain company expectations you will be asked to comply with. This is how companies maintain their brand integrity, company reputation and desired output. While individuality is welcomed on many levels (differing communication styles, varying approaches to a project, innovative ways to tackle a problem, etc.) it must still fall within the general parameters of the company’s guidelines and regulations.

While individuals can influence the modern workplace in a variety of ways, it is important to keep in mind that all three levels of influence in organizational behavior are at play in every workplace. As we just discussed, individuality is important to a successful company. At the same time, group and organizational guidelines and regulations equally shape the workplace into what it is today.

Individualized Management

When asked what type of company college students want to work for when they graduate, a common answer includes working at a place where the student believes they can make a difference and feel valued. Finding meaningful employment seems to be a top priority for many individuals entering the workplace today. In previous decades, people tended to value company longevity over meaning; their primary goal was to work their way up through the ranks. Nowadays, with more visibility into company actions than before, there is a big focus on finding a company that is right for each individual.

Image of two wood mannequins. Each is offering a puzzle piece to the other.So how can the business world piece together the intricate puzzle of the right employee for the right job? Today, not only should applicants market themselves to companies, but companies need to also market themselves towards the types of employees they want working for them. Applicants can show their personal brand through a resume, networking, and interviewing. So how does a company present itself as a desirable place to work?

First, it is important for a company to let employees be themselves. As we have discussed in many previous sections, fostering a diverse work environment is the first step to allowing individuality in the workplace. However, an individualized management approach takes it a step further. For example, allowing employees to choose their own hours or wear what they want to the workplace allows for a truly individualized work experience. While these are not globally accepted ideas, they can be extremely beneficial to fostering a happy and healthy work environment.

Encouraging an environment where opposites can work together and thrive allows all employees to feel valued and work together towards common goals. In this case, opposites does not simply include people from different cultures, but rather people with differing intellectual abilities and expertise. This means creating a workplace where the artistic and the analytical can work together without conflict, to create, market and sell products. Arup, an engineering and design firm responsible for the Sydney Opera House and the Beijing Water Cube, go to great lengths to incorporate people from all specialties into their planning process. They describe it as a holistic approach that incorporates not only engineers but also artists, scientists, politicians, etc. to view a project from every perspective and consider all possibilities and ideas when working on their projects.1

Practice Question

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Another groundbreaking strategy Arup uses is their unique employee development model. While managers provide clear expectations to their employees, they do not provide clear guidelines on how to meet those expectations. Instead, each individual employee is able to decide on their own how they want to achieve the task at hand. Furthermore, there is not a set promotional standard or path in place for employees. Instead, each individual is responsible for their own development and success with support from the company.

Waitrose

Waitrose, an extremely successful British food retailer, is also making waves with their individualized management approach. Waitrose is a full cooperative, meaning every employee owns a stake in the company and has a direct share in the company profits each year., which has worked out really well for Waitrose. They have extremely high customer and employee loyalty and it is easy to see why. In addition to being a cooperative, Waitrose takes fostering individuality to the next level. Waitrose will help cover the cost of employees exploring new hobbies. For example, if you want to learn to play a musical instrument, Waitrose will help pay for it.[1]

The idea behind this wildly unusual program is that by fostering hobbies Waitrose is also supporting an inclusive culture where employees feel comfortable being themselves. In turn, employees will be happier, perform better, and provide an extremely positive experience for customers. While these may be extreme examples, it goes to show that utilizing an individualized management approach over a one-size-fits-all approach can be extremely beneficial for a company’s morale and bottomline.

Technology and Organizational Behavior

How does technology impact your daily life? How long could you last without your cell phone, your computer, your television? Just as technology influences your daily life, it also influences the modern workplace. Watch the video below to better understand just how much technology affects every aspect of an organization.

Communication

Technology has made communication easier than ever before. Long gone are the days where you send a letter and wait for a written response or have to use an operator to connect a call. Emails, texts, interactive documents, and video conferences all make communication easier and faster than ever before. Electronic communication brings another level of complexity to an organization as inflection and tone is much harder to detect in text versus a face-to-face conversation. Utilizing concise and friendly electronic communication can be challenging but is extremely important to maintaining a professional work environment.

Workplace Environments

Technology has shifted the way the workplace looks today. While many people still go into the office for their workday, other employees have the option to work remotely. Some companies even operate strictly online and do not require a brick and mortar workplace. In addition, video conferences have replaced in-person meetings and changed the dynamic of many professional, working relationships.

Organization and Efficiency

Technology allows companies to be more organized than ever before. Filing a document can be done instantaneously and retrieved just as easily. The speed of the internet and the availability of technology allows for a much more efficient workday. Documents can now be signed electronically and sent wherever they need to go quickly. Training and development can now be offered online and allows individuals to complete training on their own time, eliminating the need to work around many schedules to conduct a training event.

Accessibility

Technology enables people to be constantly in touch with their work. Email and smartphones oftentimes prevent people from unplugging from their job. While this can be avoided by setting aside technology when you are off work, some companies now expect an immediate response to questions or concerns. While for some this may be a welcomed advantage, for other it can potentially lead to burnout and frustration. Accessibility of technology is a necessity for almost every organization. A power outage or lack of internet access can completely shut down a company.

Practice Question

https://assessments.lumenlearning.com/assessments/13938

References

Ashe-Edmunds, Sam. “Examples of Conformity in the Workplace.” The Nest. July 14, 2016. Accessed May 06, 2019. https://woman.thenest.com/examples-conformity-workplace-14454.html.

“Competency Model.” Training Industry. May 23, 2013. Accessed May 06, 2019. https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/performance-management/competency-model/.

  1. Goffee, Rob, and Gareth Jones. “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth.” Harvard Business Review. May 2013. Accessed April 17, 2019. https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth.
  2. Ibid.

CC licensed content, Original
  • Workplace Influence on Individuality. Authored by: Freedom Learning Group. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
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All rights reserved content
  • Information Technologys Impact on the Organization. Authored by: Allegro Learning Solutions. Located at: https://youtu.be/gHXweUIzDcE. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License

  1. Ibid.

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4.3 Workplace Influence on Individuality by Graduate Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.