Understanding Company Culture

People working in an office
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What is company culture and how does it impact the workplace? Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals.

For example, some companies have a team-based culture with employee participation on all levels, while other have a more traditional and formal management style.

Other companies have a casual workplace without many rules and regulations. 

Google is an example of an organization with a clear company culture. According to the website, the company still feels like a small company with an informal atmosphere, even though it has grown tremendously: "At lunchtime, almost everyone eats in the office café, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Googlers from different teams… Every employee is a hands-on contributor… no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings – or spike a volleyball across the net at a corporate officer."

Why Does Company Culture Matter?

Company culture is important to employees, because workers are more likely to enjoy their time in the workplace when they fit in with the company culture. Employees tend to enjoy work when their needs and values are consistent with those in the workplace.

They tend to develop better relationships with coworkers, and are even more productive.

On the other hand, if you work for a company where you don’t fit in with the company culture, you are likely to take far less pleasure out of your work. For example, if you prefer to work independently, but work for a company that emphasizes teamwork (or has shared office spaces), you are likely to be less happy and less efficient.

When you work at a company with a traditional management style your job responsibilities will be clearly defined, and there may not be opportunities to advance without going through a formal promotion or transfer process. At a more casual workplace, employees often have the opportunity to take on new projects, and additional roles, as time permits. 

If you're looking for a company that's fun to work for, the company culture will be a big component of your decision making when evaluating prospective employers.

Company culture is important to employers too, because workers who fit in with the company culture are likely to not only be happier, but more productive. When an employee fits in with the culture, they are also likely to want to work for that company for longer. Thus, employers can improve productivity and employee retention through a strong office culture.

How Can I Learn About a Company’s Culture?

When job searching, it is important to look for jobs where you would fit in with the company culture. However, it is not always easy to understand a company’s culture. Below are some tips for assessing a company’s culture during your job search:

  • Check out the company website. In particular, look at the company’s “About Us” page. This will often have a description of the company’s mission and values. Some company websites also have testimonials from employees, which can be a useful way to hear about the culture firsthand.
  • Do some research. Beyond looking at the company website, you can also check out a number of online resources that provide details on company culture. Glassdoor, for example, provides reviews of companies written by employees. Publications and websites like Business Insider and Entrepreneur also create annual lists of organizations with the best company culture.
  • Ask around. If you know someone who works for a company you’re interested in, ask to set up an informational interview where you can learn more about the company. Check LinkedIn to see if you have connections at the company you can talk to. College alumni, check with your career services or alumni office. You may be able to talk to alumni who are employed by your prospective employer to get a sense of what it's like to work there.
  • Ask the right interview questions. The employer will likely ask you questions to assess whether you’d fit into the company culture. However, you can ask questions too. Simply asking, “How would you describe your company’s culture?” is a straightforward way to learn about the work environment. You might also ask about particular elements of the company that are important to you, such as the amount of independent work vs. teamwork, or the day-to-day schedule of an employee.
  • Shadow someone. If you are offered the job, and are still unsure of the company’s culture, ask if you can shadow someone in the department for a day, or a few hours. This will be a useful way to see the office dynamics in play, and to ask any remaining questions.

Make Sure There's a Good Fit

Jobs aren't just a paycheck, and, given the amount of time spent working, it's important for both the employee and the employer to make sure there's a good fit. If you're not going to be happy working at a job or for a company, it may be better to pass on the opportunity and move on. Before you accept a job you're not sure about, take some to ensure it's a good fit for your skill set, experience, personality, and goals for the future.

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