Individuality vs Conformity

Learning Outcomes

  • Examine how individuality and conformity work together in the modern workplace
  • Describe how companies narrow the range of acceptable behavior

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.

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 negative reputation. 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 Management by Objective strategy and competency models we discussed in a next section below 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

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

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.


Ashe-Edmunds, Sam. “Examples of Conformity in the Workplace.” The Nest. July 14, 2016. Accessed May 06, 2019.

“Competency Model.” Training Industry. May 23, 2013. Accessed May 06, 2019.


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