5 Ways to Be a Rebel at Work

Do you regularly feel pressured to conform at your government workplace? If you answered yes, you are not alone. According to Francesca Gino, Behavioral Scientist, Harvard Business School Professor and author of the book, “Let Your Workers Rebel,” 49% of us feel the pressure to conform at work.

She claims conformity undermines our sense of individuality, dilutes talent, lowers commitment, diminishes engagement, reduces job satisfaction, negates self-improvement, stymies performance, lowers autonomy, increases burnout and escalates the likelihood of looking for another job.

She recommends six steps for the creation of constructive nonconformity-behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

Do I Have an Opportunity to Be Myself?
Can I bring my full self to this work setting including all my beliefs, biases and behaviors that define who I really am? Not only can I bring my full self to work but can I be my full self at work? Am I authentic in the workplace? Am I allowed to solve my own problems? Do I have autonomy, mastery and purpose?

Am I Playing to My Strengths?
Can I grow in this job through what I am good at? Do I have an opportunity to display this side of me every day? Does my supervisor realize how my strong suits are different from the upsides of my colleagues? Does my leader understand I may produce the same results as my teammates but in a different manner?

Question the Status Quo
Learn to recognize and reject conformity pressure. Have an answer for the granddaddy of them all status quo drivers, “That is not the way we do things around here.”

Find comfort in being a jerk in the workplace when the need arises. There is nothing wrong with being argumentative, egotistical, aggressive or headstrong when the situation demands it.

Know what you stand for, what you will not stand for and who do you stand with.

Create Challenging Experiences
Am I being stretch in this job that helps me reach the ceiling of my success rather than being stuck to the floor of my weaknesses? Are these experiences separating me from my colleagues in a way where I know I am getting incrementally better? Am I embracing these new challenges at a high rate of speed? Do I understand how my marginal improvements are moving the organization forward?

Foster Broader Perspectives
Is my workplace culture a place where questioning and curiosity is the norm? Can I take reasonable risks and not be viewed as an intruder? Is bad news embraced or discouraged? Is dissent welcomed or squashed? Are different beliefs accepted? Are people comfortable with having their views challenged? Are employees skilled at seeing their workplace from the perspective of others who do not look like them, talk like them or act like them?

Find the optimal balance between conformity and positive deviancy in your workplace. It will give employees permission to be who they really are and ensure that their organizations leave an indelible mark on the universe.

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I’ve been doing everything in this article by being my authentic, autistic self. My previous position demanded the conformity I wasn’t capable of showing and I was punished for it. Deviations from the party line were regularly punished or ignored. I don’t see how this article helps workers trapped in that situation. I was trapped for years by my autistic inability to find other work and need for the money.


This article poses a great number of questions we can ask ourselves in our workplaces, but offers absolutely no help in determining what to do with those answers. I don’t feel like this article lives up to its title. This doesn’t cover “5 Ways to Be a Rebel at Work”, it covers “4 Ways You Know You’re Being Stifled at Work, and 1 Justification for Being a Jerk”. I really don’t feel like this article is truly helpful in the workplace at all. In fact, I find myself more frustrated for having read it and being left with fewer answers than I started.

richard regan

If folks want additional information on the source document I used for this blog post just email me at [email protected]. I will send you the slides from the “Rebel Talent: Barriers to Work Engagement and Possible Solutions” presentation by Francesca Gino.

Cheryl Swyers

What about the other 51%. Conforming to a job that one interviewed for, which most likely had expectations presented to them at the outset, is a crucial portion overlooked in this article.
“Find comfort at being a jerk in the workplace.” I can’t believe this is being passed along for success. Always consider the source before making a decision.

richard regan

Have you ever thought about the possibility that if there were more jerks at the USPS, this agency would not be on the verge of bankruptcy? Conformity has served the USPS well.

Cheryl Swyers

I agree with E G an excuse to be a jerk in the workplace is the wrong message.
Workplace violence assault/threats, bullying and harassment are very real concerns in every workplace. These begin with one person acting on their choice to be a non conformist to common courtesy and professionalism. We should strive to create an atmosphere that respects and encompasses the differences of everyone using proper channels to express ones disdain. To be a “jerk” in the workplace is not something one would strive to be in creating morale and a peaceable work environment.

richard regan

Why is it that mean people are often more successful than nice people? Do nice guys really finish last?

Steve Jobs cursed his employees and constantly criticized their ideas. Donald Trump won the Presidency as his abrasive style now seems to be the norm for USA politics. John Lennon was abusive toward women. Dr. Seuss never liked children.

I have a friend who hates the legal profession. Yet, he says if he ever needs a lawyer, he wants the meanest one in the Yellow Pages.

Hockey teams rely on physical enforcers as designated brawlers to protect their best players from being hurt.

We have these love/hate relationships with jerks. We abhor them and we need them at the same time.

The fact of the matter is jerks are essential in the workplace. Without them our organizations would crumble under the weight of volatility, uncertainty, constant change and ambiguity.
Argumentative, egotistical, aggressive and headstrong people are required to push ideas forward and defend the core values of the organization. In other words, they get things done.
They are scrappers. They can take a punch and give one in return. They are amazingly resilient. They can handle feedback. Their memories are short. They can forgive and forget. They tell like it is. They will give you the unvarnished truth. They keep us accountable.

For those experienced in sales, you know the value of a jerk. Oftentimes the top sellers are highly driven, results oriented and brash performers.

Jerks are like Pirates. They are the risk takers in our organizations. They throw caution to the wind. They prize freedom and trust their impulses. They are not talkers but doers. They don’t mind being associated with bad news because they tell it like it is. They chase out fear in our organizations

Unfortunately, we stereotype disagreeable people in the workplace. She is not a team player. She is so selfish. She is all about herself. She is not sensitive to other people’s feelings. She is too passionate. She takes herself too seriously.

Inclusive, creative and innovative workplaces need difficult people.

Christians celebrate a man named Jesus who had a bunch of jerks as his sidekicks called disciples. They were able to change the world. Imagine what we could do if we followed their example.