• Workplace peer pressure is unavoidable
  • Learn to say no and set boundaries to defend yourself
  • Be consistent and confident to deflect pressure
Think back to your teenage years.

Remember all that peer pressure of fitting in with your circle of friends and the larger population of the school?

You needed that specific pair of Keds or Reeboks to go along with your perfectly ripped acid-washed jeans.

The baggy Champion sweatshirt you wore over your turtleneck had to be the right color.

And of course, your hair.

Bring on the mousse, gel and Aqua Net hairspray.

Your life depended on getting your hairstyle juuuuuust right for school, no matter how long it took. Looking good was far more important than being on time.

Why did we all go through this?

Because it was all about being accepted and not looking like a dork or misfit. Hell, even the misfits had their own dress code.

Being called out on looking weird was the equivalent of being banished from the island. You did anything and everything to be part of the crowd and accepted. Because if you weren’t, your life was effectively over.

Today, we’re all grown up and peer pressure doesn’t have the same level of power or influence as it once did when we were younger.

Or so we thought.

We are all far more independent-minded and mature, but peer pressure still exists. It’s just that now it’s at the office instead of school. The topics are different but the fundamentals are still the same.

Every day, we all experience some kind of peer pressure at work.

It could be about not partaking in the office cake culture, staying in and not joining the team happy hour, refusing to join the internal revolt, not contributing to the email internet meme chain, etc.

Whatever it may be that you’re going through now, we feel you. Workplace peer pressure is really a thing. And it’s totally natural - but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it. 

Why Peer Pressure Works

Human beings are social animals. We’re literally hardwired to seek acceptance and belonging. Without it, we would perish and die or at least that’s what our brain thinks.

As a result, we’ll do a lot of crazy things just to feel like we’re fitting in.

From talking smack about someone we actually really like or joining the group for after work drinks when we know we have a ton of personal matters to attend to. It’s in our nature to give in to peer pressure.

In the workplace, this is compounded.

When it comes to your personal social circles, sure, at the start of the friendship, peer pressure works like a charm. But once you’re comfortable with your friends, it’s easy to let your bestie know what’s what when they’re trying to twist your arm to do something you don’t want to do.

That’s because you know your closest friend will still be your closest friend even if you don’t go sign up for that Soul Cycle membership with them.

But in the workplace, relationships are slightly more fickle and have a more direct influence on things like your career progression and your happiness at the office, where you spend a huge portion of your life.

Because of this, it’s even more tempting to take the easy route and do whatever will earn us brownie points - especially when it comes to people that have a lot of influence or authority in the organization.

Sometimes, though, it’s not the fitting in or earning stripes that make us succumb to workplace peer pressure. It’s the simple fact that we can’t make anymore decisions.

Decision fatigue is a real thing y’all!

In this modern age of infinite choice, you’re bombarded with decisions every day from the moment you wake up.

Whether to wake up and work out or hit snooze on the alarm, what to wear, what to have for breakfast, what podcast to listen to on the way to work, what task to tackle first once you arrive, how best to respond to that rude email, coffee or tea, etc.

The list goes on and on.

And on those days when you’re already stressed, tired or simply overwhelmed with all the shit going on in your life, you reach a certain point where you just can’t make any more decisions.

This is why even within the space of 12 hours you can go from being on a real health kick to giving up and ordering Dominos.

When we have decision fatigue, we’ll just go with whatever option is easiest or presented to us first. And that’s where peer pressure thrives.

Office Peer Pressure Can Be Good and Bad

Of course, not all peer pressure is bad. Peer pressure is essentially what happens when an individual changes their behavior in order to conform with their peer group, in this case other employees.

In an office with a good company culture, it’s peer pressure that forces us to show up to work on time, socialize with colleagues, dress appropriately and generally act like an adult at work.

But on the flip side, peer pressure in the workplace can also lead to less desirable behaviors.

Gossipping, slacking, taking unnecessary breaks, rebelling against management, disrespecting other colleagues and more.

Even when peer pressure doesn’t lead to an overly negative situation, it does make people do things they don’t want to do, and that’s not okay either.

There’s nothing wrong with going for after work drinks on a Friday. In fact, it’s a great way to bond with your colleagues.

But if you really don’t want to go because of personal commitments, financial difficulties or simply because you just don’t feel like it, then you shouldn’t be pressured into going.

“Don’t be so anti-social.”

“Oh just come for one drink!”

“Don’t be lame!”

“Everyone will be there.”

This kind of cajoling can push you into doing something that can have negative repercussions for you in the long run.

So, between trying to fit in, wanting to get ahead at work and dealing with the fatigue of too many choices, how can we avoid letting peer pressure direct our working life?

Check out this little 1-minute snippet.

VIDEO: How to Deal with Peer Pressure
YOUTUBE: Howcast
LENGTH: 1:23
Summary points:
  • When being pressured into something, think about the consequences
  • Be clear when you’re saying no
  • Surround yourself with the right people

How To Manage Workplace Peer Pressure

We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our response.

When it comes to office peer pressure, it’s not going away any time soon. So, we have to learn how to deal with it effectively.

Here are the main pointers.

1. Be Clear On What You Want And Don’t Want

We all have that one friend who knows what they want and doesn’t let anyone convince them otherwise. If she says “no” to a night out, you don’t even bother pleading. Her decision is made and that’s that.

We could all do with being a bit more like this friend. It’s easier to hold your ground when you’re absolutely certain of what you want.

When it comes to the workplace, be intentional about your career and what you want from it. This will help you in much of your decision making.

The same goes for being clear on the kind of lifestyle you want to lead.

If you’re committed to a healthy lifestyle, perhaps you’ll want to have a blanket ban on donuts at work. Knowing this in advance makes it easier when those situations come up.

That said, there are some things that take some thought.

For example, if a controversial new company policy is announced, you might need some time to decide how you feel about it.

In these kinds of situations, know that you don’t always have to give a snap answer.

If Bob comes over to bitch about the announcement 30 seconds after it’s been sent out, just say “I’m not sure what I think about it yet, I’ll get back to you.”

It’s always better to delay than to say something you might later regret.

2. Speak Up And Be Direct

We’ve all been there before. You dilly-dally around the point you’re trying to make in order not to be rude or to keep the peace, only for your vagueness to come back and bite you in the ass.

It could be that you answer “I’m not so sure I’d be good at that” to a request for you to join the company softball team, only for the instigator to rebuff “Doesn’t matter! We all suck!” and put your name down before you can think of a second excuse.

It could be the dreaded “I don’t mind” statement you mumble when really, you do mind, but you’ve just given up your power and authority to someone else, which rarely ever ends well.

When you feel you’re being pressured into a certain decision or stance, it’s important that you speak up and say it like it is.

“I don’t eat meat, so can we please have our team lunch somewhere with some vegetarian options?” is likely to have a much better outcome than “Oh just choose wherever everyone else wants to go.”

Use your voice!

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it will teach people what you are and aren’t about.

3. Learn To Say No

It’s one thing being vocal about your position and a slightly different, slightly scarier thing to outright say no.

Especially in the workplace, we can find it difficult to say no for fear of repercussions or being seen as uncollaborative or just plain mean.

But saying no and setting boundaries is an important skill to learn which can help you set healthy limits in work and in life.

And ultimately, it will help to keep your stress levels down as you won’t be spending time and energy on what you don’t want to, shouldn’t have to do or simply don’t have the capacity to do.

4. Remove Yourself From The Situation

Some people just won’t take no for an answer. Instead, they’ll try and debate, sweet talk and bribe you over to their way of thinking.

In a workplace setting, this could be anything from them telling stories about other colleagues to turn you against them, to trying to guilt you into attending a social event you’ve already said no to.

In these situations, it’s best to just remove yourself completely. If it’s an in-person conversation, make your excuses and leave. Tell them you need a bio break or whatever - just get yourself out.

If it’s an online chat, turn yourself offline or just stop following the conversation. Ghosting them is a good thing in this case.

Try not to see this as rude but rather as a way to protect your own wellbeing. This will also go some way to teaching people what they should and shouldn’t discuss with you without you having to say it right in their face.

5. Stay Focused And Be Consistent

Whether it’s healthy eating or awesome time management, it can be easy to fall off the wagon with our life choices.

This is especially the case when we give in to peer pressure.

It’s important for us to stay focused on what’s important to us and as much as possible, be consistent.

Sure, the odd long lunch won’t make a negative impact on your personal brand at work but continual delays, missed deadlines and tardiness most definitely will.

Once you’ve decided something is important to you, keep reminding yourself of it whenever you have a decision to make and be consistent in your choices.

Colleagues will stop asking you to cover for them when they’re hungover if you say no the first few times they ask.

“That group” will stop trying to involve you in their drama after a few failed attempts.

Those above you will stop trying to make you their lackey once they see that you’re not one to be bullied and pushed around.

6. Keep Good Company

In every company, there are bad eggs, good eggs, and everyone in between. There’s also always unique office politics at play that you have to figure out if you want to get ahead and have a harmonious office life.

With this information in mind, it’s key that you choose the right people to spend your time with. You don’t want your work BFF to be the source of most of your anxiety! They need to be your best supporter and office confidant - that’s why everyone needs a work BFF.

Choose people who have similar views to you, are serious about their careers and are nice to be around.

We spend about a third of our working life in the office, so you better get together a crew of people who make you feel good.

Having a good, positive circle of work friends also means that you’ll have back up for any contentious discussions, and good sounding boards when you’re not quite sure where you stand.

They say that you are the sum of the company you keep, so choose wisely.

Handle Peer Pressure Like A Boss

No matter what age we are, we all want to be loved and accepted.

In an office environment, that’s not only good for our wellbeing but also for our career.

This is why it can be easy to fall into the trap of being pressured.

But have you considered the other side?

Being fickle, a pushover and easily swayed is not a good trait. Contrary to winning you fans, it could lead to people thinking you have no integrity or a mind of your own.

It’s much better to find your tribe, be yourself and find your voice. These are the people who get promoted and praised. Those who speak up for themselves at the right time and for the right reasons naturally earn the respect of others.

And if you’re open about your likes, dislikes, wants and needs, you’re more likely to find your kind of like-minded people and build close bonds with them.

Knowing this stuff on an intellectual level doesn’t instantly make us immune to peer pressure though. It takes commitment and practice. But the great thing is, as we practice speaking up and standing our ground, those around us also learn who we are.

So, while none of us had the guts or desire to wear knock-off designer clothing in our teenage years, we can all be more true to ourselves now as adults at the office with far less fear.

​Peer pressure at work will always be there, but it’s our job to show that we can’t be swayed.

And before you know it, instead of feeling anxiety when you have to disagree or say no, you’ll feel a calm confidence and a sense of liberation wash all over you.

You’ll be handling peer pressure like a boss.

Feel Better,

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