Free Press Journal

Fit in or stand out? Successful employee balances both

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Washington: If you are at work and confused between fitting in or standing out, a new study has come up with an answer suggesting that most successful employees do a bit of both, striking a balance between integration and non-conformity, according to ANI.

If you’re the kind of person who stands out culturally, you don’t follow the same norms as others in the office. In order to succeed you will need to fit into your organization structurally by being part of a tight-knit group of colleagues and if you stand out structurally, you aren’t a member of any one clique at work but serve as a bridge across groups that are otherwise disconnected from each other.

In the paper “Fitting in or Standing Out? The Tradeoffs of Structural and Cultural Embeddedness”, co-authors Sameer Srivastava and Amir Goldberg explore the relationship between fitting in, standing out and success within an organization.


“Most people recognize that, if they fail to differentiate themselves from their peers, they are very unlikely to get ahead,” says Srivastava. “Yet fitting into a company creates a larger, motivating sense of identity for employees and enables them to collaborate with others in the organization.” The result is a conflicting pressure on workers to fit into an organization and, at the same time, stand out. Srivastava and his colleagues wanted to learn more about that tension and find ways to resolve it.

The team created an algorithm that could analyze the natural language in e-mails, focusing on the extent to which people expressed themselves using a linguistic style that matched the style used by their colleagues.

“Some of the most informative language categories were ones whose use is governed by cultural norms – for example, using emotional language when communicating with colleagues. People who fit in culturally learned to understand and match the linguistic norms followed by their colleagues,” says Srivastava.

To learn how this relates to an employee’s success, the researchers studied employee age, gender and tenure, and identified all employees who had left the company and whether their departure was voluntary or involuntary.

This led them to identify four organizational archetypes: “doubly embedded actors,” “disembedded actors,” “assimilated brokers” and “integrated nonconformists.” What the researchers call a “doubly embedded” employee – is someone who is both culturally compliant and part of a dense network. Such a person is unlikely to get exposed to novel information and will struggle to break through the clutter in proposing ideas of his own.