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Janelle Stiehl, Account Manager at Commit and Louisa Smith, Senior Engineer Success Coordinator at Commit

Career Transitions Series: Culture

August 16, 2022 in Career Transitions

Work culture has become a relevant and important piece of the puzzle to determine whether an employee and employer will be a longterm fit.

In the article “Great Resignation: Survey Finds 1 in 3 Are Considering Quitting Their Jobs”, Rachel Pelta shares that “the number one reason people quit their job was a toxic company culture (62%).” 

This really speaks to the point that you can enjoy your work, pay, and team, but if your values aren’t aligned with your company’s values, mission, and goals, this may not be a lasting match.

With a toxic culture accounting for almost two thirds of why employees leave their jobs, there’s never been a better time to carefully consider what kind of culture you want to work in and want to help build.

Let’s dive in and chat more about:

  • Defining workplace culture; 
  • Differentiating ‘perks’ from ‘culture’;
  • Determining what your culture non-negotiables/culture “values” are; and
  • Assessing culture fit in the interview process 

Defining workplace culture

According to Kate Heinz, author of the article “What Is Work Culture? How to Build a Positive Environment,” company culture is “the shared set of values, beliefs and attitudes that guide your organization. It’s reflected in the way you treat your customers and employees. It impacts the types of candidates you attract for open positions. A strong work culture boosts productivity, decreases turnover and improves employee engagement.” 

We understand ‘traditional’ management isn’t a one size fits all approach and know that culture can include different priorities such as inclusive, innovative, or employee empowerment to name a few.

From a workplace culture perspective, employees have the ability to greatly impact and shape the culture at work. Many companies are very aware of this and are looking for not just a culture fit, but a culture ‘add’ to help mold the vision of their future work culture. 

As an example, say that you’re interviewing with a company that hasn’t been known to be inclusive but is aiming to improve. If you’re someone who is knowledgeable, passionate and/or keen to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion, you could be the culture add that company is looking for.

To do a deeper dive into culture ‘add’, check out this article

Differentiating ‘perks’ from ‘culture’

When you think about 24 hour access to foosball, napping pods, and unlimited access to drinks and snacks you may see these are part of a company’s culture. These features are actually considered perks and no amount of perks can create a work culture.

Perks are just things on the side that can enhance your experience as you are performing your job and working towards achieving company goals. 

Photo Credit: Octanner

Many founders make the mistake of putting too much emphasis and time into developing amazing perks. They may not realize the value of first developing a work culture which should be prioritized and sometimes letting the culture develop on its own.

This is especially true when we’re looking at startups that can grow so quickly from 3 to 30+ employees. As a founder, you’ll want to define your culture path from the get-go to avoid being reactive to later realize that there are disgruntled employees and people leaving as a result. 

For more information on the importance of defining your work culture from the start, this startup culture article has some great tips. 

Determining what your culture non-negotiables/culture “values” are? 

Figuring out what your own culture values and non-negotiables are is the first step towards finding a company that jives with those.

Where do you even start? Consider a job in the past where you identified a healthy work culture. What aspects about that culture stood out to you?

Maybe you saw that the leadership team prioritized a healthy work-life balance or had a plan in place to work towards a safe and inclusive environment. 

Conversely if you’re having trouble identifying positive aspects of work culture, was there an unhealthy culture you worked in, in the past? 

Homework: Brainstorm a few things you would have done differently to improve a previous workplace culture. Then, bring out your list of values (if you need any help figuring those out, check out our article on values) and see if there is any overlap!

Photo Credit: Adobe

As an example, perhaps when you worked at your last company, you noticed that burnout was happening in your department and that there was an expectation to work late into the night. 

What boundaries and actions would you have liked to see demonstrated and communicated through leadership that could make for a healthier work-life balance?

One strategy for improvement could be management partaking in and encouraging everyone to share a “read me” document in their Slack profile that talks about communication preferences, strengths, and what work life balance means to you. This can be a way for everyone to get to know one another along with respecting and acknowledging each other’s boundaries and preferences. 

Assessing culture fit in the interview process 

Maybe you’ve had an interview experience where you left and felt like things really clicked. The way the company spoke about their culture and values really resonated with you and you just had a feeling that it was a good match.

That is often an informal first step in knowing if a culture could be right for you. If things are jiving for you, then you can consider testing your values and beliefs against what the company is offering and see if things are still aligning at that point.

Photo credit: Flexjobs

In an interview there are ways to learn more about the work culture you could be entering into and it’s important to listen to how the company responds to the questions you ask.

Here are some sample questions you can consider in your next interview:

  • Could you share your management style? If this person won’t be directly managing you, ask them about your direct report’s management style 
  • What’s the process for making decisions here? What impact will my role have on making decisions?
  • Can I expect formal progress reviews? 
  • How is feedback delivered?

If you’re looking for more, this Forbes article has other great questions to ask in an interview to help get a sense of the culture.

Take note of how the interviewer responds to these questions. For instance, if you ask about the process for making decisions you can get the sense about whether you could have a heavy influence on decision making or whether this is left to the higher ups.

If you ask how feedback is delivered, listen for if it’s delivered at performance reviews or if it’s given on a regular basis. As employees, we can do our best work and build trust in the organization when we receive feedback regularly versus being surprised by feedback only every 6 months at your review.

We hope that these tips help you define and identify what culture is the best fit for you as you make your next career transition!

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