SHIFTING STATUS The status we enjoy is relative to the group we are in. The managing director who enjoys high status of both types will have to shift his roles and expectations when he's asked by the rest of the board to answer criticism of company performance. The manager who is given status by her sales team largely due to her expert power will have to adjust her role when she meets informally with a group of other managers from different departments. In either case, inability to shift status through behavior and attitude would alienate others. Inability to shift status when moving from workplace to home can also cause difficulties. Since many people derive a strong sense of status from the recognition they get at work, when they stop working they need to readjust. Relocation counselors — occupational psychologists who are paid by companies to see their senior executives through periods of redundancy — recognize this. The counselors may provide displaced executives with 'mini-offices' — their own office space and secretarial back-up that can be used on a daily basis. The executives, though stripped of job title status, keep some sense of territorial status. And they are able to tell headhunters and prospective employers that they are working from a serviced office in town. When people stop working through redundancy, retirement or maternity they need to find other ways of getting their needs fulfilled. Hobbies, learning, the new role itself, more available time to spend with family and friends may effectively do this. As a newcomer to a job and organization, you may find yourself groping around to discover how status operates. Like this fifty-year-old ex-army major now employed in industry: When I left the army a couple of years ago, I had great difficulty coming to terms with my change in status. In the army you know what's what, who's above you and below you, so to speak, and that status is authority-based. In industry I found the status system much more difficult to comprehend. It was far less overt. In my first few months I made some real gaffes sitting in the wrong part of the dining room, for instance, and using a commanding manner with staff that weren't used to it. I have found much more concern with status in industry than I expected — it's just not so easy to identify for a newcomer. When people move from the armed forces into civilian life, they often need to make considerable adjustment to the way status operates. If you choose to dispense with conventional displays of overt status, bear in mind how conformist, conservative and resistant to change many people are. The managing director who suddenly assumes a very friendly, familiar manner may be regarded with suspicion; the accountant who turns up to work in his track suit may be ridiculed. Non-conformists are often regarded as mad, bad and dangerous to know. When playing status games, remember the status quo.
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