In today’s open offices where communication is more casual, it feels like everyone is on equal footing and working for a meritocracy. But that’s wrong, says Jeffrey Pfeffer, an organizational behavior professor at Stanford University. Power structures haven’t changed much over time.
Pfeffer offers three theories of why workplace hierarchies are still going strong.
- They work. Networking and building relationships are essential skills for navigating hierarchies. You move up by knowing the right people.
- People want to be with winners. It’s in our DNA to associate with survivors. In the workplace, this means the higher ups. It also fulfills our need for order and security.
- Power structures let us justify disparate traits among others. When someone is perceived as higher, it’s easier to confer positive traits onto that person.
— Adapted from “Jeffrey Pfeffer: Do Workplace Hierarchies Still Matter?” Eilene Zimmerman, Stanford Graduate School of Business.