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Conformity Bias: What is it and how does it affect the workplace?

Chandni Ahuja
2 May 2024
17 min read
Conformity Bias: What is it and how does it affect the workplace?

Have you ever sat in a meeting where everyone enthusiastically agrees on an idea, but a nagging feeling in your gut tells you something's off? That unsettling hunch might be conformity bias at play. In the workplace, conformity bias can seem like a harmless tendency to go along with the crowd. But this seemingly minor issue can pile up and become a major problem, silently eroding innovation, critical thinking, and ultimately, the success of your team. 

While having a conformity bias at the workplace can seem like a minor issue, this behavior can turn into a major problem, harming the peace of the work environment. 

So, before getting into how conformity bias affects the workplace, we will first understand the definition of conformity bias.

What is Conformity Bias?

what is conformity bias in the workplace

Conformity Bias is the natural human tendency to want to fit into the group, even if that means questioning and overlooking your own ideas and opinions. It is where people tend to change their beliefs and adapt to different behaviors based on other people’s beliefs rather than using their judgment. 

Studies have found time and time again that humans are widely influenced by the opinions of others. People generally resort to conformity bias either because of informational conformity, which refers to being perceived as correct to save face from public embarrassment, or because of normative conformity, which refers to the act of fitting in so people accept us and don’t feel like we are the odd man out.

conformity bias in the workplace

Conforming to social norms in order to fit in can be harmless. But that often leads to adopting unethical or unfair behavior towards employees who are not a part of the group. It results in freshmen and new people missing out on potential opportunities at work. So as an HR manager or a budding L&D expert, you are responsible for ensuring that all your employees work efficiently. 

communicating

The only way to ensure that there is no conformity bias at work is by deliberately acknowledging it and developing workplace safety strategies to avoid biased opinions in the workplace. Rather than agreeing to others’ opinions and beliefs, people must have an open mind and think rationally, before coming to a conclusion.

Is Conformity Bias different from Affinity Bias?

Yes! There is a huge difference between affinity bias and conformity bias in the workplace. While affinity bias can be unintentional and influences how we think about other people, conformity bias influences our actions. Having an affinity bias refers to turning a blind eye toward an employee’s potential and giving preferential treatment to others with shared experiences or interests. 

However, conformity bias refers to a deep-seated need to be part of the group. This is why it is crucial to accept that everyone can have unconscious biases and share their concerns and opinions to overcome discomfort in the workplace

What are the different types of Conformity Bias?

According to Herbert Kelman, there are three major types of conformity bias: compliance, identification, and internalization. So what exactly is the difference between the three? Let’s get into the examples of conformity bias and understand how conformity bias can affect work.

Compliance

It is a type of conformity bias that involves publicly aligning one’s own beliefs with those of others to fit into the group. The desperate need to be accepted or the fear of being rejected forces individuals with their own set of thoughts and opinions to comply with others’ opinions and beliefs. 

One example of compliance conformity bias is:

  • I went to this restaurant with my colleagues to bond over a few drinks. Since everybody ordered beer for themselves, I ordered the same, even though I am not a big fan of it. 

Having a compliance conformity bias can significantly affect your work environment because employees might unintentionally prioritize fitting in and following the status quo. This can prevent them from proposing new ideas and going with the existing norms in order to feel accepted. 

This is why it is important to provide your employees with different types of compliance training in the workplace, which allows them to understand, identify, and reflect on their behaviors more effectively.

Identification

Identification is another type of conformity bias that slightly differs from compliance conformity bias, as the private views of an individual change from time to time. Individuals generally conform to someone who is liked and respected either publicly or privately. 

One example of identification conformity bias is:

  • I am a vegan at work because most of my colleagues do not like consuming any form of dairy product. However, I eat meat whenever I am back home, on weekends. 

Internalization

It is a long-term change, where an individual accepts others’ beliefs both publicly and privately. This conformity bias is generally based on information, whereas compliance conformity bias inclines towards the social need to fit into a group.

One example of internalization conformity bias is:

  • I used to consume all forms of dairy products and meat for survival. However, my colleagues shared their insights on how animal cruelty affects the quality of life for animals. So I decided to become a vegan for a lifetime. 

Causes of Conformity Bias

Conformity Bias, also known as the tendency to conform to others’ opinions and behaviors, can arise from various factors. It is important to understand the causes and address them to mitigate the impacts of conformity bias in the workplace. To further enhance your knowledge of work safety measures, take this quiz and test your knowledge.

Some of the most common reasons why people conform to social norms at work are: 

5 Tips to Avoid Conformity Bias At Workplace

Conformity Bias, also widely known as the bandwagon effect, is when we jump on the bandwagon to do something not because we agree but rather because everybody else is doing the same thing. This can happen among employees or even among employers. While it can be harmless, it seizes the opportunity for an individual to share their honest opinion in a group. 

So what should you do in such a critical situation as a manager or an L&D expert? You take the initiative to address the biases and implement strategic approaches to avoid further such conflicts at the workplace. Here are five ways you can avoid conformity bias at work: 

Embrace diverse teams

As per the Boston Consulting Group study, companies with a diverse management team bring in 19% higher revenue because of innovation and creativity. Cultivating a positive work environment seems rewarding and welcoming to the employees. It allows them to express dissenting opinions and raise their concerns without any fear of repercussion. You can create a diverse work environment by encouraging anonymous feedback mechanisms, holding debate meetings, and creating open-door policies for every employee.

Reverse the agenda-setting

There must definitely be one dedicated person sharing their opinions during group meetings. Authoritative people often seem to influence people or sound intimidating, which results in employees aligning their thoughts with those of the leader. So, the best way is to let the new employees speak up and share their opinions and ideas before letting the authoritative person speak first.

Establish a devil’s advocate

This closely relates to reversing the agenda setting at your workplace to mitigate conformity bias on a large scale. It emphasizes an individual’s capability to provide constructive criticism wherever possible. Appointing a particular critic allows employers to understand things better and identify potential spots for improvement through healthy debate and feedback sessions.

Develop a synchronous voting system

Pushing meaningful opinions under the rug is not something we want! This is why it is important to develop a simultaneous voting system that allows every employee to vote simultaneously. This mitigates one after the other voting process, thus encouraging everyone to put out their honest opinions on the spot. This is one of the most effective strategies to mitigate conformity bias at your workplace.

Encourage open dialogue

Last but not least, encouraging an open discussion with the employees not only promotes independent thinking but also prevents unethical behavior and unfair treatment at work. With workplace harassment being one of the biggest concerns even today, every manager or employer must understand the significance of it and take the necessary measures to create a safe workspace where every individual is treated with respect and dignity.

working unitedly

Here is where open discussion plays a significant role, allowing for the exchange of diverse perspectives and mitigating the risk of conformity bias. It motivates employees with different perspectives to share their opinions and express their concerns without any fear of judgment or repercussion. It also gives you room to process things and analyze the root cause to mitigate conformity bias for good. 

In Conclusion

Conformity Bias can be a little sneaky, as you wouldn’t realize when it creeps in. It can often be an unintentional behavior to gel with other people at work. But no worries! Now that you have understood why is conformity bias a problem at work and found ways to mitigate it, go ahead and express your thoughts on the new performance improvement plan implemented at work. 

Don’t let a silly bias hold you back from making the right decisions at the right moment. If you are curious to learn more in-depth about workplace challenges and implement effective strategies to boost team productivity, get your hands on our exclusive course on Calibr LXP

FAQs

1. Why is conformity bias a problem at work?

Conformity Bias is a problem at work because it can prevent you from thinking individually. To the extreme, conformity bias can lead to a “herd mentality," where you follow a group of people without any concern or question. This can suppress an individual from their true opinions, causing hindrance in judgments in the workplace.

2. Give an example of conformity bias in the workplace.

One instance that showcases conformity bias playing in the picture is when you join a new company and find existing employees working post-work hours and follow in their footsteps. Even though you need not work late, you would work overtime under the pressure of conforming to the rules and feeling accepted at work. 

3. What can influence conformity bias?

The social pressure to fit in makes us follow the norms defined previously without any questions. Fear of rejection, need for approval, leader influence, and uncertainty play a vital role in influencing conformity bias, thus preventing you from sharing your opinions in public.

4. How to avoid conformity bias in the workplace?

It is crucial to:

  • Encourage employees with diverse viewpoints to speak up during a discussion or an open debate. 

This makes the work environment more friendly and safe. After all, beating conformity bias at work requires open communication, patience, and inviting unique perspectives. Another way to avoid conformity bias is:

  • Encouraging your people to learn more about how it affects the environment

Help your people grow, learn more about conformity bias in the workplace, and cultivate the best practices to avoid it in the future. Discover the best course on our platform and transform the learning experience of your coworkers.

5. Do employers provide any training to managers or employees on handling conformity bias at work?

Yes! Some employers do provide training to help managers and employees overcome conformity bias at work. Conformity Bias is a type of cognitive bias where individuals adopt certain behaviors and beliefs as per the majority of the group involved. As it is an unhealthy behavior in the workplace, several managers utilize robust course authoring tools to conduct end-to-end training, thus reducing bias, improving decision-making, and promoting diversity of ideas. 

6. How can Calibr help me?

You get to design your own course module to provide an effective learning experience for your coworkers. Calibr LXP allows you to deliver engaging learning modules without any coding knowledge. Utilize our built-in templates and features to create a super easy course for your employees today!

Chandni Ahuja

As an enthusiastic English literature graduate, Chandni enjoys writing as much as a toddler enjoys animation. She discovered her passion for writing and expressing thoughts through this form amidst the nail-biting months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since then, she has volunteered in various anthology books that have been published on Amazon. Her experience working on a diverse range of verticals has enabled her to excel in this domain and face new challenges as they come. With a contagious thrill and excitement at the workplace, Chandni embraces wearing different hats and soaks up information like a sponge.