The process to starting a new career is something that pretty much anyone who’s held a job in their life is going to know: it starts with an application, moves onto an interview, and then you join a new company. In an ideal world, that would be the end of it – you find your place in a company, work the rest of your life there, and retire at 65 having worked a job that is fulfilling, emotionally satisfying, and, more importantly, loved.
Unfortunately, the reality is far from that. In Malta, only 51% of people are satisfied with their jobs – pretty dire figures considering that, barring sleep, most of a person’s life is spent at work. Finding a job that you like isn’t just a matter of preference, either: having a job that challenges you and makes you happy makes you more productive and eager to go to work. Companies with happy employees also report less turnover and increased employee engagement and productivity.
So how do you tell if a company is right for you, without working there?
You ask about the company culture.
What is company culture?
Company culture is the internal values and personality that permeates the environment of the workplace. Company culture dictates whether your job is done solo or within a team, if the CEO works in the office with everyone, or on a separate floor, and policies about bringing pets into the office and workplace lunches. Good company culture fosters employees who are eager to go to work and interested in giving the company their all. Good company culture treats employees as having an equal stake in the company’s functioning, and ensuring that every person who walks through the door to their desk feels as though they have a place there.
Negative company culture fosters problems, whether it’s chain-of-command issues or low-productivity and a low-engagement environment. The news is full of cases about negative company culture run riot: Uber fostering a sexist and hostile workplace for women, Theranos losing employee morale due to the founder’s bizarre behaviour, and workplace harassment at Revolut are just a few of the stories that made headlines this year.
Why is company culture important?
Imagine that you go into work every day and have to detail every minute of the day to your superior, or that the slightest infraction of the rules – coming in 30 seconds late from lunch, forgetting to clock in and getting straight to work, or having to deal with harassment from your colleagues based on race, gender, age, or a number of other factors.
The environment you work in is invariably tied to productivity and to personal happiness. Going into work miserable every day is going to affect more than your working career, as well; people who work in jobs that they no longer feel challenge them or keep them happy are unfulfilled, stressed, and unhappy, which will then manifest in personal problems such as relationship issues and weight-gain. Furthermore, it is more likely that companies with a strict company culture will experience a high turnover rate because workers don’t feel like their skills and their work is being met with appreciation, and it’s not a low figure: companies with a bad company culture can experience up to 48.7% higher turnover rates than companies with positive company cultures.
Engagement with work is also completely different for companies with a negative company culture. Studies have shown that people who are not engaged with work are more likely to slack off, take more holidays and sick leave, and struggle to complete tasks quickly, which can amount to up to 2.5x less in revenue than companies with positive company cultures.
On the other hand, companies with a strong company culture report higher and more positive figures for nearly everything, whether it’s engagement with the company brand, productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention. The benefits of keeping your employees happy are not just psychological or monetary – they’re also tied intrinsically to how people perceive your brand. Workers who are happy with the company they work for will recommend and advertise their workplace, and the reputation boost achieved by positive and personal recommendation will always outweigh advertising.
Five Things Company Culture Is Not
While this is not a strict yes-no guide, there are a few things that, as of recently, have become invariably tied with a ‘good company culture’. This, however, should not be the case.
1. Catered lunches
Companies who offer catered lunches are not invariably bad, however on the list of things that matter to employees, it ranks well below other, more crucial, elements of corporate culture.
2. Expensive equipment and fancy offices
Everyone loves high-tech equipment and comfortable offices, but the companies with the best and most elaborate offices are not necessarily going to give you the working experience that you need, especially for industries that are known for their high wages, but equally high demand and turnover. While a beautiful office is lovely, it’s up to you to determine whether that outweighs importance over a thriving connection with the employees themselves.
3. High wages
People who make a lot of money are not going to be any happier than people who don’t; they’ll just have more money to spend on things. The importance of this element may vary depending on the employee – on the one hand, a high wage is always beneficial, but on the other hand what are the costs of getting that high wage? Long hours and stressful work may be good for some, but it won’t be everyone’s fit.
4. Employee trips
Everyone wants an employer who will pay them to travel – but think about it. Trips with the company aren’t going to be a holiday; whether it’s team building or training, a work trip is still a work trip.
5. Videogames and on-site entertainment
Probably the most effusive of all corporate benefits, videogames and on-site entertainment usually manage to convince more than a few people to join a particular company without asking more about the company itself.
Asking about company culture
While all of these are definitely attractive prospects to have, it’s important to consider that a company still needs to provide a service, and that the working environment will be a working environment, regardless of what the benefits of the office are. Asking about company culture means asking about more than just the benefits and how many catered lunches you get.
Company culture means how employees are treated when they have an emergency and need to take time off work. It means how they’re given opportunities to advance, and whether or not their work is appreciated and noticed by their superiors. A company who pays lip-service to their employees without making it match with actual results – less strict times, allowing them benefits, giving them a raise – is unlikely to consider their employees at the same level as companies that give those benefits do.
When you’re at an interview, ask:
- What is a day at the office like?
- Do you offer continuous professional development?
- Are there any opportunities for promotion in this role?
- What is the dress-code like, and is it strictly enforced?
- What activities do you offer for employees?
- Do you encourage risk-taking?
- How do you resolve conflict between employees?
- What form does feedback take?
- How do you support your employees?
- What is the manager like?
- Do you offer flexible working arrangements?
- What happens when someone makes a mistake?
You might not get answers to all of the questions above, but that in itself will tell you whether or not the company you’re applying for has the kind of culture that you want to join. It’s worth mentioning that the definition of a ‘good’ company culture might vary from person to person: priorities are different, and opinions will not be the same across the board, however it’s always important to know what kind of company culture you’re getting into. If the company has a very loud, open-door policy, and you work better on your own and in solitude, you might still find it difficult to fit into the environment, regardless of how friendly other people might find the location. Similarly, if you’re a friendly person, and you’re made to work in an office on your own, chances are you won’t enjoy the experience and will be looking for a new job before the ink dries on your engagement form.
Company culture is important. Whether or not the company culture written about here strikes you as negative or positive is irrelevant; the truth is there are a lot of companies who see company culture as the amount of trivial or monetary things they offer their employees. If all you are looking for is a company with a good salary and a lot of benefits, there’s nothing wrong with that – but often, people are looking for a company that they’ll work for happily until they move on to the next thing, if they ever do. In that case, asking about company culture isn’t just important; it’s necessary to make sure that, whatever job you take, you will be happy while doing it.