Humans are naturally social creatures that innately desire to create relationships with those around them. Therefore, most businesses thrive when employees are working together for the greater good of each other, the company and the community. Individualism often conflicts with these values, so a healthy balance must be maintained to create an effective workplace.
Individualism emphasizes the value and interest of the individual. This contrasts with collectivism, which is focused on the well-being of the group as a whole. Individualism became a central part of American culture by the 19th century. Today, individualism continues to flourish in all aspects of American society, including work. This can be seen in the popular “dog eat dog” business mindset that puts personal growth and success above co-workers and at times, even the company.
Properly guided individualism fosters an environment that can benefit the workplace. Individualistic workers tend to be highly competitive because they believe being the best will help them reach their professional goals, which makes them efficient and effective. They tend to be productive because they aren’t relying on working with others to help them succeed. These employees often are self-motivated and therefore usually don’t need a boss frequently checking in on them and monitoring their work.
The competitive nature of individualistic employees can be detrimental if they see collaboration with co-workers as worthless or an inconvenience. Collaboration fosters creativity and innovation when the environment is positive. When the environment is negative, people are less likely to share their ideas and opinions and hostility can brew. Because individualism values the person over the group, this type of worker may also be selfish and willing to do whatever it takes, even if unethical, to attain their desired level of success.
Individualism isn’t going anywhere, so it’s important to understand how to positively integrate this into the workplace. Mangers should offer trainings that show how harmony and collaboration in the office actually helps everyone reach their individual goals. When employees start to see the connection between their own success and their co-workers’ and company’s success, collectivism will occur naturally. In this type of environment, workers can compete in a healthy way that still keeps the well-being of the office team and company as a whole at the forefront.
Sydney Neely has worked in the education arena for more than 10 years, teaching general education, the arts, communication and finance. She holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees from Arizona State University. Neely also holds several state and federal financial licenses in life insurance and investments (Series 6 and 63).