Norms are everywhere, and without being aware of it, people follow them most of the time. Norms help create a feeling of security and provide orientation. If you get invited for a job interview, one norm is to wear professional dress so you express respect for your potential employer, and the interviewer can see you know how to dress in the work environment. However, failing to adhere to certain norms could expose you to formal or informal sanctions.
Workplace Norms Are Men's Norms
Male norms continue to dominate workplaces, although women represent almost half of the American workforce. One such norm is to fully dedicate your time and energy to your work. Women who work part-time or who care for family members are often viewed as undedicated. According to research presented at the 2012 Work and Family Researchers Network conference, during the last recession mothers faced a ‘'motherhood penalty’' while men received a ‘'daddy bonus’' regarding duration of unemployment and earnings upon reemployment. Moreover, men still don't take family leave very often, and the conclusion many managers draw is that men are more dedicated to their jobs.
Gendered Norms Are Pervasive
Communication styles are another good example of the presence of gender-biased norms in the workplace. Male communication styles tend to be functional and focus on creating results, while female communication styles are often expressive, and designed to build social support. Former lecturer Dr. Fiona Sheridan of the National University of Ireland found that male talk-related norms were favored over female talk-related norms in her study of an American multinational organization. This can create disadvantages for women in many different contexts. In a meeting with your male colleagues, your communication style could encourage your male colleagues to talk over you because they don't evaluate your talking style as appropriately dominant.
A Norm Is Not a Norm
Norms vary depending on the degree of obligation, the degree to which individuals are aware of them, and the individuals they extend to. Some norms can be adhered to, others should be followed, and yet others must be enacted. If there's a rule in your workplace that everybody should clean the coffee machine after using it, some colleagues will follow this rule and others won't. Not cleaning the coffee machine won't get you fired, but you might find yourself the target of displeasure among your colleagues. Observe behaviors at your workplace to get a better sense of existing norms.
A Matter of Subjectivity
Some norms in the workplace must not be disrespected, but sometimes people define norms differently or attach different meanings to them. One such norm is that sexual harassment isn't tolerated in the workplace. However, Dr. Justine Tinkler of Stanford University found that what men and women define as sexual harassment depends on how ambiguous and threatening to the workplace they experience regulations concerning this offense. Tinkler found that female supervisors resisted defining sexual jokes or remarks as harassment. The better you understand norms in your workplace, the more successful you'll be able to steer your career.
- Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drug Use: Workplace Substance-Use Norms as Predictors of Employee Substance Use and Impairment: A Survey of U.S. Workers.
- Michigan Law Review: Only Girls Wear Barrettes: Dress and Appearance Standards, Community Norms, and Workplace Equality.
- Harvard Students' Spouses and Partners Association: Talk Recap: Understanding American Cultural Norms in the Workplace.
Dr. Andrea S. Dauber has been writing since 2008. Her areas of expertise are personal and career development. She has published everything from scholarly articles to book chapters. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Mainz, Germany. As a certified professional and career coach, she coaches clients and conducts workshops at universities.