From Norms: Beware the unwritten rules of the workplace
A reading from pages 45-46.
Jonas was excited about his new position. He had been invited to join the practice of the top law firm in the city. The senior partner had told him that he would be considered for partnership in a few years. Life was good. He enjoyed his work and his colleagues.
Two weeks after beginning work in the new practice, the senior partner called Jonas into her office and motioned him to the window overlooking the parking lot.
"Is that your '57 Chevy out there?,” questioned the senior partner.
Jonas answered, "Sure is. It's a classic. I prefer to drive it instead of garaging it."
"That's fine", replied the senior partner, "Just don't drive it here and park it in our parking lot. Take a look at the other cars -- Lexus, Mercedes, Cadillac. Get yourself a nice car and you'll be OK."
For these lawyers driving a car befitting their status was a group norm, an unwritten rule of behavior. If you did not drive a luxury car, you were not really part of the group. You were not projecting the image the group wanted to project. While this may seem unreasonable, we intuitively know the reality and pervasiveness of group norms. High schools and junior highs are notorious for cliques, each with their separate ways of dressing and behaving -- geeks, jocks, goths, bandies, popular kids, and so on. Norms do not disappear as we move through life. They are there in the workplace, sometimes clear for all to see, sometimes subtle, other times hidden.
KEY: Unwritten rules of behavior can affect our lives in the workplace in powerful ways; violating norms can be risky.
Norms are behavioral standards that evolve in groups and that influence the behavior of group members. You violate norms at your own risk. If you are new to the workplace and you are working harder than others around you, you may be violating a performance norm. If so, a co-worker may give you a friendly hint, "Hey, slow down. You'll make us all look bad." Failure to adjust will lead to increased pressure from your co-workers and the danger of being alienated. . .
Workplace norms can develop about appropriate dress, speech, quality of work, quantity of work, hours expended at work, and on and on. Not every behavior in the workplace has a norm, just those that have evolved for whatever reason as being important to the group. Some norms are more important than others. Sometimes a norm that has existed for a long time may transition to a rule or regulation, such as a dress code that is put in writing. Furthermore, norms vary from workplace to workplace, group to group, and situation to situation.
Explicit norms usually are not hard to recognize. You are told what they are or they are readily apparent.
Scarlett wanted to make a good impression on the first day of her new job at a major financial firm in Chicago. Office hours were 8-to-5. Scarlett got up early and was in the office by 7:30 a.m.
As she walked in, her new boss snorted, “Where have you been? You're late.”
"I thought our hours are from 8-to-5?," Scarlett questioned.
Her new supervisor looked at her, smiled, and said, “Yes, technically you are right but no one here works those hours. You’ll find most of us here 7-to-6.”
Implicit norms on the other hand can be difficult to recognize. We may not even know we have violated them until it is too late.
Image modified from photo by Markus Spiske. Obtained from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lights-vintage-luxury-tires-103283/