Every individual has experienced peer pressure at some point in their lives, often beginning in early childhood. While we like to think we have outgrown the playground, adults still regularly succumb to peer pressure. It is the responsibility of strong leaders to ensure that the peer pressure within their organisation is carefully managed to maintain a positive and productive work environment.
The primary concern when it comes to peer pressure is the tendency for even the most ethical individuals to avoid saying ‘no’, participating in behaviours they would not have otherwise to avoid damaging their social station.
However, this same desire to avoid discomfort can encourage employees to maintain and model appropriate behaviours. If managers can build a strong sense of teamwork within their group with a focus on productivity, a positive organisational culture will quickly take over the office.
Peer pressure can become a managerial asset when teams are assembled. Allowing team members to determine their own hierarchies will often prevent negative feelings, but peer pressure may quickly set in. It is important that managers step in if it appears that peer pressure from one or more individuals appears to be making others uncomfortable or to prevent peer pressure from sending a project down a path likely to lead to a negative outcome.
When managers set clear common goals for team members, peer pressure can naturally help to keep the project on track.
When peer pressure takes on a negative form, there will always be a risk that bullying behaviours will begin. Managers should quickly intervene if it appears that an individual has become ostracised by the majority of the group to determine whether peer pressure is involved, particularly if the behaviours started after the outcast individual disagreed with a popular opinion.
Effective leaders must ride a fine line between the desire to foster a culture of support and engagement within the organisation and while avoiding coming across as encouraging staff to conform to peer pressure.
While on of the hallmarks of a successful team is the ability to reach a compromise and to work together for the greater good of the organisation, employees must feel free to disagree with the actions of the group and to pose their own opinions without negative consequences.
An effective leader must be able to recognise when an individual is at risk for yielding to the forces of peer pressure and to successfully intervene, which often involves both addressing those engaging in pressuring tactics and providing coping mechanisms for the at risk employee.
These interventions are particularly important in the event of peer pressure leading employees to engage in acts that negatively impact the organisation.
These easily influenced employees should be taught that they can say ‘no’ to their peers and consult their managers on the situation without fear of repercussions, and all employees reminded of the goals and values of the organisation.
The power of peer can be seen at its best use when the organisational culture has successfully taken root in the hearts of employees, encouraging staff members to support each other, work productively, and to strive toward common goals.
When all parties embrace a positive culture and feel supported in their right to say ‘no’ and to voice their opinions, managers will be able to utilise positive peer pressure to promote team work, productivity, and employee engagement.