There are many things smart professionals do before accepting a position, in order to ensure a potential new workplace culture will be the right fit. They choose to work for a company based on personal recommendations and reputation in the market. They learn about the values of its CEO and executive team to confirm their beliefs are aligned. They research the organization’s overall contributions to society and determine whether they care about similar causes. They even “interview” prospective employers and supervisors, and do their best to assess personalities and skills.
But the fact is, try as we may, oftentimes it’s not really possible to determine an organization’s workplace culture before actually being immersed in it. The reality is that even companies that win all the “Best Place to Work” awards aren’t a perfect fit for everyone. This is frequently the topic of discussion in a mastermind group I am a part of. The group is made up of marketing and communications professionals who have taken the leap to small business ownership, and who are now responsible for shaping the culture within our own companies. We often discuss our values and how they align with what we do for a living, as well as who we choose to work with.
A friend in the group recently shared her experience with a company that initially retained her as a part-time marketing consultant. Eventually she was contracted in a full-time role that required her to be in the office and report to a new supervisor. A few weeks into the gig, she wondered if she had made the right decision. Though she believed in the mission, loved the work she was doing, and developed collaborative relationships with her colleagues, she sometimes felt like the “odd man out.” There were signs almost immediately, but she attributed them to being in the office every day (versus working remotely as a contractor) and navigating a relationship with a new supervisor.
Over time it became evident that the workplace culture was not the right fit for my friend and she mustered up the courage to move on. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you suspect the same is true for you:
Are there signs you are ignoring?
While my friend’s values were similar to the CEO’s, there was significant misalignment between the values of her and her new supervisor. She found herself pushing back as this person directed her to do things that made her uncomfortable—like sending spammy sales emails and removing author information from research papers and articles written by former employees. Being pushed to do things you feel are wrong is a big red flag.
Is the executive team leading by example?
During a company lunch, the partners began reminiscing about the past. The focus of the discussion shifted to a former employee. As the tone of the conversation turned catty, my friend asserted to the executive team that their gossip made her uncomfortable. After she spoke up, others around the table chimed in as well. If public badmouthing of employees (past or present) is the norm for members of the C-suite, it is a sure sign that something is amiss.
Are the company’s core values more than a plaque on the wall?
This particular company’s core purpose and values were largely focused on education. Continuing education opportunities for staff were part of what influenced my friend to accept a full-time role there. But during the budgeting process, professional development was not prioritized and there was talk of reducing the education budget for everyone but the partners. If the organization’s commitment to its values is not evident in how it operates on a day-to-day basis, you may want to start planning your exit strategy.
Is the CEO the owner of workplace culture?
After observing conflict between my friend and her supervisor, the CEO attempted to comfort her by acknowledging, “It’s not you—others have had a hard time with her, too.” Unfortunately, he was unable (or unwilling) to address the issues directly, which created an environment where many employees avoided, worked around and feared the wrath of this person. If the CEO avoids the tough stuff, and members of the leadership team are allowed to behave badly, and without repercussions, dysfunction will continue to plague the organization. Time to move on and find an environment that feels right for you. Or, do as the members of my cohort and I have done—launch a business and design your own workplace culture.
About the author: A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris Olsen has devoted her career to connecting individuals and organizations using the power of words, images and experiences.