Be Different at Work But Not Too Different Because You Just Can't Win

Illustration for article titled Be Different at Work But Not Too Different Because You Just Can't Win

Ready to feel even more paranoid about your work wardrobe? Turns out giving zero fucks about conforming in the workplace can have a social upside—but only if you deviate in precisely the right ways.


That's according to the Wall Street Journal, examining recent research from the Harvard Business School. Pretty much everyone knows that, if you stroll into Bergdorf's rocking leggings and workout hair, salespeople are liable to assume you're some hot-shit celeb. Turns out there's a similar phenomenon in the workplace, if you're willing to break with the Ann Taylor-clad rank-and-file. "The problem is that conforming to norms is an easy and safe spot to be in," said HBS doctoral student Silvia Bellezza. "If you're willing to deviate, there are upsides." For instance:

Students afforded more respect to a fictitious bearded professor who wore a T-shirt than to a clean-shaven one who wore a tie. Candidates entering a business-plan competition who chose to use their own PowerPoint presentation background were tabbed more likely to win than those who used the standard background.

But—and this is a very big but, so don't order those bright-purple pumps just yet—mistakes don't add to your cred. Your deviation has to look deliberate: "In order to think that the person's a big shot, you have to understand that the person is willingly engaging in this nonconforming conduct," according to Bellezza. Plus, you have to be recognizably an insider to get the bump.

Tl;dr: if you're comfortably ensconced in your position as a middle manager, definitely break out that statement necklace for your next big meeting. The rest of us? Well, we're still standing in front of our open closets, wailing and gnashing our teeth at the subtle gamesmanship of corporate America. It's like Game of Thrones if it played out entirely in your office break room and the dressing room of the nearest Talbot's.

Photo via Shutterstock.



I think this all also hinges on being conventionally attractive, for women at least. It's the elephant in the room — if you're going to look funky, you have to also look polished in some way.