Constructive Nonconformity

Behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization. | Francesca Gino

I recently stumbled upon a post by Fiona Tribe, Poetry at the water cooler, where she writes,

To express pro-system sentiment publicly, and anti-system sentiment privately, is not to be inauthentic, but to make a strategic choice from the limited discourses you have available to you in a certain place, at a certain time.

We are constrained by the system we might otherwise rail against. But what if our organizations wanted us to rebel?

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This reminded me of Francesca Gino’s Let Your Workers Rebel from 2016, which details these how conformity becomes the norm:

Throughout our careers, we are taught to conform — to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviors of others, and to information that supports our views. The pressure only grows as we climb the organizational ladder. By the time we reach high-level positions, conformity has been so hammered into us that we perpetuate it in our enterprises. In a recent survey I conducted of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform, and more than half said that people in their organizations do not question the status quo. The results were similar when I surveyed high-level executives and midlevel managers. As this data suggests, organizations consciously or unconsciously urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. Workers and their organizations both pay a price: decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation.

Gino finds that there are three main reasons we conform at work:

  1. We fall prey to social pressure.

  2. We become too comfortable with the status quo.

  3. We interpret information in a self-serving manner.

She suggests we need to promote constructive nonconformity, which she defines in this way:

Behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

She continues,

going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity.

Read her research findings and her 12 recommendations on countering the perils of conformity. It’s important work.

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Elsewhere

You’re Going Back to the Office. What Happens to Your Nap Habit? | Ray Smith touches on napping:

Many people returning to offices in the coming months face an end to one of the secret perks of working from home: the daily nap. People who say they rarely napped before the pandemic have picked up the habit over the past year, worn out by dramatic work-life balance challenges that have extended the work day, Zoom fatigue, insomnia and the simple fact that remote work makes short snoozes possible.

In a survey of 2,000 employees working from home conducted by career and jobs website Zippia in late April last year, 33% said they took naps while working from home. Yet while dozens of studies have shown the benefits of taking naps, such as increased alertness, stigma about napping at the office endures.

I don’t think people will be back in the office often enough for this to be a real problem.

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I was motivated by the new features on Substack’s sites to showcase various things. For example, some essays in the A Working Future Series, as I am pulling older attempts out of my archives.

Upcoming essays will be exclusively for paid subscribers, so you may want to sign up now. Also, paid subscribers will be getting a Work Futures ebook, Paradoxes of Engagement, coming later this spring.


Beneath and Beyond Corporate Culture | Half-truths, pretense, and fragmentation in contemporary corporate culture

Who Owns Work, and Its Future? | The majority of businesses operate on premises that are grounded in folklore, not science.

We Need A New Work Culture | And we can’t wait for more enlightened management to show up or grow up.