Dealing With Peer Pressure At Work – Don’t Keep Doubting Your Performance

“If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.” - Gordon A. Eadie


Humans are social beings, and from an evolutionary perspective, it is an innate need in us to want to belong to a particular tribe and to follow the norms of that tribe. That is how many civilizations have survived and continue to survive. In the hierarchy of needs according to American Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the need to belong has been seen as a basic human motivation. The need to be accepted is universal. 

Deficiencies in this area in the form of neglect, ostracising and shunning can adversely affect the individual’s functioning. The ability to form and maintain significant relationships also get affected.  Hence, many at times we may find that the fear of isolation may make us behave in ways that are influenced by the decisions or opinions of the people around us and are solely not driven by our own motivation. ‘Peer’ refers to the social group and ‘peer pressure’ can be defined as the pressure wielded by a peer group in influencing a person’s attitude, behavior, morals and other aspects of life. 

There are various psychological perspectives to understand the phenomenon of peer pressure. Importantly, we can consider two processes that work in tandem with each other. First is the discomfort experienced by the individual for having conflicting attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in comparison to the peer group. Second is evaluating one’s social and personal worth in relation to others.  

In the face of social rejection, an individual’s internal state of balance is disrupted for failing to conform to the peer group resulting in eventual conformity. However, this conformity gives rise to an internal state of conflict (self-rejection) as it gives a sense of a violation of one’s own standards. Thus, again in order to restore balance the individual confirms thereby eliminating the internal conflict as well. Eventually, in this tug-of-war, an identity shift takes place with a new set of internalized attributes.  

Peer pressure is a double-edged sword with both positive and negative influences. Negative peer pressure can take myriad forms ranging from loss of feelings of autonomy and control over one’s life. Quality of relationships personal and professional undergoes a change. Further, physical and emotional well-being also get compromised as a consequence of yielding to peer pressure. Take a scenario when someone at the top management puts pressure on the managers to change their employees working styles or their principles in order to suit the changing needs and demands of the organization. 

There is a clear cut discrepancy between one’s preferred style of working and what the organization may want. Instead of taking perspective, being open and tolerant to another’s idea and offering support the manager might face ridicule, shame or worse, made to feel guilty.  Having low self-esteem in such a scenario intensifies feelings of humiliation and derision as now the views of the top management get internalized. 

Orders are followed with no attempts to exude loyalty to employees. It might demotivate the manager who would not be allowed to work for what he may strongly believe in. Any deviation from the plans of the top management will invite judgment. Within no time the management may turn into a jury, judge and an executioner holding the person guilty for having interests that are different from their own. Consequently, the manager may play it safe to maintain the position and privileges. However, the individual here on starts on a journey of self-sabotage while compromising on goals that he may have initially set out to achieve.

The Road Ahead


Staying true to yourself in the face of challenges by reflecting on your core values and belief system goes a long way. In an honest interaction with yourself pay attention to the visceral changes that you experience while seeking answers to the questions that arise.  


Is a balanced response in which one’s needs and desires are put forward while having due consideration for the needs and rights of others. When pressured one can maintain eye contact and say ‘No’ directly. ‘No’ is a complete sentence in itself. In addition, using ‘Í’ statements in a conflict-laden situation helps diffuse the situation. One can rehearse the responses beforehand by anticipating what might come up during a conversation. 

Find your tribe

Find and surround yourself with people who respect you and validate your experiences. Recognize that criticism emanates from a place of insecurity and one does have to bite the bait. In the process, you may win some true allies. 

Not all is lost, there are certain merits to peer pressure

Researchers at the University of York have found a common trend across the labour market and have found that the presence of having a hardworking peer group impacts and improves the earnings and income of other employees as it encourages them to work harder. Though such inferences are difficult to draw about highly skilled occupations such as doctors, lawyers, and architects. One such explanation given is that it is not easy to observe the working practices of the other peer group in these professions and perhaps there is less social pressure.

Integrity is an integral part of our lives which requires a humble introspection into what we believe in, our values and our belief systems which are often challenged in today’s world. It requires extra courage, the ability to walk the talk and do what is right and not what is easy. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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