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How Do Norms and Conformity Affect Group Behavior?

How Do Norms and Conformity Affect Group Behavior?

All groups have established norms, acceptable standards that are shared by the group’s members. Norms dictate output lev- els, absenteeism rates, promptness or tardiness, the amount of socializing allowed on the job, and so on. Norms, for example, dictate the dress code of customer service representatives at a credit card processing company. Most workers who have little direct customer contact come to work dressed casually. How- ever, on occasion, a newly hired employee will come to work dressed in a suit. Those who do are teased and pressured until their dress conforms to the group’s standard.

Although each group has its own unique set of norms, com- mon classes of norms appear in most organizations. These norms focus on effort and performance, dress, and loyalty. Probably the most widespread norms are related to levels of effort and per- formance. Work groups typically provide their members with explicit cues on how hard to work, what level of output to have, when to look busy, when it’s acceptable to goof off, and the like. These norms are extremely powerful in affecting an individual employee’s performance. They’re so powerful that performance predictions based solely on an employee’s ability and level of personal motivation often prove wrong.

Some organizations have formal dress codes—even describ- ing what’s considered acceptable for corporate casual dress. How- ever, even in the absence of codes, norms frequently develop to dictate the kind of clothing that should be worn to work. College seniors, when interviewing for their first postgraduate job, pick up this norm quickly. Every spring, on college campuses around the country, students interviewing for jobs can be spotted; they’re the ones walking around in the dark gray or blue pinstriped suits. They’re enacting the dress norms they’ve learned are expected in professional positions. Of course, acceptable dress in one organiza- tion will be different from another’s norms.

Few managers appreciate employees who ridicule the organization. Similarly, profes- sional employees and those in the executive ranks recognize that most employers view persons who actively look for another job unfavorably. People who are unhappy know that they should keep their job searches secret. These examples demonstrate that loyalty norms are widespread in organizations. This concern for demonstrating loyalty, by the way, often explains why ambitious aspirants to top management positions willingly take work home at night, come in on weekends, and accept transfers to cities in which they would otherwise prefer not to live. Because individuals desire acceptance by the groups to which they belong, they’re susceptible to conformity pressures. The impact of group pressures for

Right orWrong?

You’ve been hired as a summer intern in the events planning department of a public relations firm in Dallas.After working there about a month,you conclude that the attitude in the office is “anything goes.”Employees know that supervisors won’t discipline them for ignoring company rules. For example, employees turn in expense reports, but the process is a joke. Nobody submits receipts to verify reimbursement and nothing is ever said. In fact,when you tried to turn in your receipts with your expense report,you were told,“Nobody else turns in receipts and you don’t really need to either.”Although the employee handbook says that receipts are required for reimbursement,you know that no expense check has ever been denied because of failure to turn in a receipt.Also, your coworkers use company phones for personal long-distance calls even though that’s also prohibited by the employee handbook. And one of the permanent employees told you to “help yourself” to any paper, pens, or pencils you might need here or at home.What are the norms of this group? Suppose that you were the supervisor in this area. How would you go about changing the norms?

adjourning stage The final stage of group development for temporary groups, during which groups prepare to disband.

role Behavior patterns expected of someone who occupies a given position in a social unit.

norms Standards or expectations that are accepted and shared by a group’s members.

performing stage The fourth stage of group development, when the group is fully functional and works on the group task.

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