Assessing Workplace Culture By wovox on flickr
August 25 2011

Assessing Workplace Culture

by Liz Seasholtz

During my interviews with recruiters for WetFeet Employer Profiles, I’ve been asking about company culture. The responses range from “congenial” to “supportive,” but the question got me thinking about the definition of “office culture.” Is it just a catch phrase?

Determining workplace culture is tricky because it’s often unspoken—just a general feeling or “way of life” of the office. Much like regional or ethnic culture, workplace culture has many elements, including laws, language, fashion, authorities, power relationships, conventions, conflict management processes, and dispute resolution processes. For instance, wearing heels versus flats to work may be part of your corporate culture, or eating lunch as a group everyday rather than alone at your desk. Another more serious part of your corporate culture may be whether HR is involved in coworker disputes, as opposed to leaving employees to hash them out on their own, under the radar.

Often times, the most enjoyable (or hated) part of working at a company can be its culture. But unlike salary or workplace responsibilities, a company’s culture can be extremely difficult to influence. You’re best joining a company with a culture you already know fits your needs.

If you’re observant, there are some ways to assess a company’s culture in the interview. Here are some tips on what to take note of:

1. As you walk through the halls to your interview room, are people being social?     Are they speaking to or laughing with each other? Do they look up and smile at you, or are they walking quickly with their heads down? The latter may indicate the culture isn’t the most friendly.

 2. When you discuss working hours, does there seem to be any flexibility? Does your interviewer mention her coworker brings her dog to work on Fridays? Cues like this reveal how structured or relaxed the environment is.

3. What is your interviewer wearing? This often says a lot about the casualness of the company (or let you know if you have to buy a new wardrobe).

4. Is there a theme to the interview? For example, if the interviewer keeps asking about how you handle stressful deadlines, it’s safe to expect that there are frequently stressful deadlines.

5. When it’s your turn to ask questions, ask, “What do you like best about working here?” Often times, the interviewer’s answer will reveal aspects about the culture. If she mentions things like the people, the flexibility, the casual environment, the teamwork between employees and their managers, the office-sponsored happy hours every Thursday, etc., this is good insight that there’s a great culture there.

How important is workplace culture to you? Do you have any good indicators of a workplace’s culture to add to my list?

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