Where you stand in the lift is indicative of status

by Stephanie Zillman19 Apr 2013

If you think making a B-line for the back of a lift is meaningless – think again. New Australian based research has uncovered secret power plays going up and down around the country.

Research by visiting academic Rebekah Rousi from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland hypothesises that where people choose to stand in lifts indicates where they see their social standing. The PhD. student’s research indicated the following case notes:

  • Older men stand at the back.
  • Younger men in front.
  • Women of all ages keep to the front.
  • Men stare at the floor, the floor monitor or mirrors
  • Women only stare at the floor monitor.
  •  All eye contact is avoided.

After observational research was conducted by Rousi at two of Adelaide’s tallest buildings, she identified the existence of ‘micro social hierarchies’ established within seconds of entering the lift.

In a post for Ethnography Matters, she wrote that more senior men automatically directed themselves towards the back of the lift cabins. Interestingly, men of all ages were much more likely to check their appearance in lift mirror, whereas women would only do so when accompanied by other women or alone in the lift. “Women would watch the monitors and avoid eye contact with other users (unless in conversation) and the mirrors,” she noted.

Curiously it was also found that lift users seem somewhat aware of these dynamics. “Both men and women mentioned how they would either purposely stare at other elevator users to draw attention, or that one woman in particular would enter the elevator and stand facing the back, rather than the doors, which other users found disconcerting,” Rousi said. “Thus, people related a sense of playfulness at recognising and purposelessly disrupting usage norms and hierarchies.”

Do you agree there are power plays occurring in corporate lifts? How to do behave?

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