A system of the hierarchy might be one of the oldest systems of people management in the world. While it requires strong leadership skills and disciplined workers, it also asks that people surrender their intelligence and follow orders without question.
A hierarchy culture was once the dominant workplace order. Unskilled labourers worked in an environment dominated by men who often used fear tactics to ensure workers would not rebel. Harsh working conditions and little pay in agriculture, factories and industry kept people in a state of indentured servitude.
As industrialization changed the nature of work, offices brimming with toxic masculinity ensured that every person knew their place and any ladders were fast pulled up so that advancement was reserved for those in the ‘boys club’.
However, a hierarchy system does have its place. A culture that requires people to follow orders has benefits, as any well-trained military shows. So what are the pros and cons of a hierarchy culture in the workplace?
The pros of adopting a hierarchy culture
The long history of hierarchy culture, led by patriarchy, is one of the most dominant features of history. Royals on thrones, the masses uneducated and poor and without a voice. It did mean that some of the most wondrous features of architecture were completed, but the cost to human life was high.
Then, the French decided they wouldn’t stand for it anymore, and the age of the Enlightenment dawned; merci! However, there are still instances of top-down power systems, and they do work when applied to the right scenario.
When Hierarchy Culture Works
Armies need leaders. It is the most obvious example of how hierarchy systems benefit those working in them. A clear chain of command, disciplined masses and respect for the power that is above you ensures that goals are met according to a plan.
The clear structure of power is a motivating force for those who want to achieve success in their company. If career advancement is made open to all, in a hierarchy system, it can be very clear what steps you need to make to advance in your company, which can be reassuring for those in corporate environments.
For those in academia, seeing a clear path towards becoming a specialist can be reassuring. Knowing what is expected and how to achieve goals is a huge benefit to those who are working in a healthy hierarchy, meaning that those who have power do not abuse their power, but use it to guide teams towards clear goals.
A hierarchy can engender a feeling of ‘togetherness’ among those at the bottom levels of the structure. There is a sense of comradery and shared experience that can encourage loyalty to your company.
When Market Culture Fails
Different departments will often work at odds with each other to try and gain favour, get ahead or grab that promotion. People can sometimes focus more on their career or personal goal than that of the company, which can hurt your reputation and bottom line.
Hierarchy systems often have little time to consider the needs of individuals. Sick days, personal leave and even holiday leave need to be kept to a very strict record, and start and finish times are often recorded so precisely that any tardiness is harshly punished. People are not given any space for their personal needs, or often personalities, to be taken into consideration, as workers are seen as numbers making up a part of a whole.
High Operating Costs
Systems with multiple layers and very set job roles need more managerial levels. A lack of fluidity means that more people are required to complete tasks. Often in such workplace cultures, you will hear someone say ‘that’s not my job’ if asked to perform a task outside their job description. This means more people performing in limited roles and less fluidity of worker functionality.