I’ve worked for a few companies that have a strong company culture.
Sounds good enough, right?
The forms of culture I have seen are an all encompassing “behave this way or else” narrative. It’s been detrimental to my own well-being and the health of the company (despite their oblivion to the source of the damage).
On this thing you call ‘culture’, I call bullshit.
The culture I see is this: Dear everyone, please conform to the same standard that everyone else is following along with. If you are different or require different things, that’s annoying and we’ll probably make fun of you. Be like us or get out.
This is disastrous for a company and devastating for anyone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ with the majority.
What the heck is culture? Let’s define it.
The ERC says:
Culture is the character and personality of your organization. It’s what makes your organization unique and is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes.
Culture is as important, if not more important, than your business strategy because it either strengthens or undermines your business and the objectives it is trying to achieve.
Culture is likely set very early on in the birth of a company. But it changes as the company grows. So the culture at 5 people isn’t the same at 10, or at 100 or 2,000.
Culture is also not just what you say it is in a branding document. It’s that and so much more. It’s everything.
It’s how leaders interact with other employees, what they celebrate or punish, how all company systems are managed including hiring, firing, retention, compensation, paid time off, and benefits; its policies, philosophies, beliefs, the physical work environment, and of course, all the people you hire and their behaviours, beliefs, skills, and backgrounds.
When I got my first job out of grad school, I was stoked. I was young, energetic, wanted to work super hard and make a difference, and I was smart. I was and still am extremely friendly, love to make jokes, smile at people — straight up, I love connecting with others. I’m an extrovert through and through.
So when I walked into this hip, downtown office, where everyone seemed to be the ‘same as me’, I was even more stoked.
That was until I remembered some other aspects of my personality: someone who got all their work done in the quiet zone in the library, who wrote while speaking out loud at her computer, who needed frequent alone time to think, and overall, adequate mental space to do amazing work.
It did not hit me lightly when I realized the office and the ‘dream job’ was going to fuck with all of this important stuff.
I’m incredibly type-A, driven, and a perfectionist. So, believe me when I say that I *need* to get my work done and I *will* want it to be my best work. That means, I want to focus on it (like, duh).
In this office, I could barely think straight.
I would come home with stress in my body from the amount of talking and music that played around me all day. I felt like I had 1,000 tasks assigned to me and I had completed .25 percent of each of them. I was being mentally strained for 8+ hours a day, simply because there was nowhere to go to get quiet.
It took a toll on my happiness and my mental health.
I took my first mental health day (of now, many) in this job.
There was one moment in particular I will never forget.
I was working on a major project for a client — which involved me proofreading 200+ pages of content. I had hidden away in one of the front sitting areas. Not technically an office or a meeting room, but I needed a space and it was all I had (since when I asked to work from home I got the side eye). So there I sat. Working.
I overheard someone in the office talking about me and asking where I was. This person (the office manager, btw…), expressed how they didn’t appreciate that I wouldn’t work in the open concept space with everyone else.
Someone offered that I probably needed to focus and had a lot to do (thanks to that kind soul).
The office manager continued, “Well, I told her about the culture in her interview, I tried to warn her…”.
If this is ‘culture’, something is VERY wrong.
What I’ve described isn’t a good culture. That’s a toxic culture.
And that kind of shit isn’t working for me. And I know it’s not working for others.
Here’s what worries me: Companies are prioritizing superficial elements of culture over the elements of successful and healthy company culture.
Here’s what I want.
- loud music
- open concept environments with no quiet work areas
- judgement when I ask to work remotely
- foosball tables right beside where I work
- expensive Friday lunches
- acceptance and accommodation of various working styles
- supporting employees to do their best work
- openness to feedback
- chairs and desks for comfort instead of for Instagram-drool-worthy-posts
- holding employees to account when they act out of accordance with the above
So-called ‘culture’ should never be more important than supporting your employees to get their work done.