Should You Fit In Or Stand Out At The Workplace?


Jun 13, 2017

Should you stand out or fit in at work?

The short answer to this question, according to Stanford Professor Amir Goldberg and Berkeley Professor Sameer Srivastava, is that it depends:

  • If you are different culturally, such as wearing clothes that are different from the norm at your workplace, then you should try and fit in structurally (by having a close set of colleagues at work).
  • And if you don’t fit in structurally and are not part of any cliques at the office, but instead have a broad network throughout the firm, then you should aim to fit in culturally.

The modern workplace, especially tech companies, rewards people who stand out from the pack. Creativity, diversity and innovation are valued.

However, at the same time, fitting into the organisation and having a common sense of identity is also important.

This creates conflicting demands on employees.

According to the researchers there are 4 possible approaches to handle this conflict:

  1. Be high on culture fit and low on structure fit.
  2. Be low on culture fit and high on structure fit.
  3. Be high on culture fit and high on structure fit.
  4. Be low on culture fit and low on structure fit.

fit in or stand out at work

Assimilated Brokers are most likely to do well and Disembedded Actors are the most likely to be fired.

Assimilated Brokers are great networkers and are well connected with various people across departments. They are not part of any particular clique and don’t limit themselves to only knowing people in their department well. However, they do blend in culturally.

Disembedded Actors are not part of a dense clique and interact with people outside their department. At the same time, they don’t fit in culturally as well. So while they interact with people in the organisation, they aren’t able to relate well to them and cannot make a connection.

In the end, you need to find the right balance for yourself.

Either maintain your place as part of a tight-knit group but stand out by behaving a little weirdly, or be the smooth networker who knows what’s going on across the organization but also knows how to blend in culturally. You want to distinguish yourself from the pack without making anyone in the pack uncomfortable.” says Goldberg.

  About The Author  

Nigel has vast experience in Training & Development, Facilitation, Lecturing, General Management and Operations. In addition to an educational background in philosophy, psychology, theology and communications, he has advanced qualifications in business, adult education and coaching.

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