Have you ever had a job where you liked the work itself, but the workplace or manager made your life miserable? Or maybe a job where the work was boring but your colleagues and the atmosphere kept you inspired? As most experienced workers have learned, when it comes to a great job fit, the culture and values of a workplace may be at least as important as the job itself.
But what exactly is a workplace culture? And very importantly for your job search, how can you find out what an employer’s values are before you either a) target your job search to a specific employer, or b) accept an offer?
What is a “workplace culture”?
Workplace culture is a broad concept that includes shared beliefs and values that relate to organizational structure, communication, employee relationships, and more. Workplace culture, along with mission, vision, goals, and strategies, shapes employee behavior and perceptions. The culture also relates to how employees are selected, trained, managed, and how they may advance in the organization. In other words, the culture affects just about all aspects of a worker’s experience.
There are multiple dimensions to a workplace culture’s orientation. The examples below are not opposites, but more like different points on a continuum to illustrate differences:
- Individual achievement vs teamwork
- Innovation and risk-taking vs stability and security
- Outcome orientation vs. customer focus
- Process oriented vs product / results oriented
- Competitive / aggressive vs supportive, tolerant
- Driven by research and development, customer orientation, technology, information, or other function
- Hierarchical, with rigid authority channels vs less structured, more fluid communication and authority
- Fast paced vs quality and precision
An organization’s values are often very prominently reflected in a workplace culture. Most of us have an attraction to certain values, some throughout our working lives, and others more situationally, as our personal needs change. Some workplace values include:
- Employee engagement
Flexibility is currently a strongly trending work value – whether around work schedule or work location. Many workers have grown used to working from home and strongly prefer the option to continue to do so. For working parents or caregivers, a flexible start and end time can accommodate their family’s needs. Working from home can be an asset for those with needs that are easier to address at home than at a workplace.
How can I identify an employer’s values?
Let’s say you already know and can articulate your own work values. How can you elicit what an employer values?
- Employees. Communicating with current or past employees of an organization is a great way to learn about an organization’s values. Whether through personal contacts, social media connections, or by reviewing a website that lists previous employees’ feedback about their employer, you can learn a great deal. Keep in mind that the feedback reflects their individual experience, though, so it may not relate to your own experience with the same employer.
- Annual reports. You can learn a lot about what an employer is proud of through reviewing their annual report, where they note successes, growth, history, key initiatives, and financial status.
- Employer websites. These often include size of their workforce, hiring policies, and job openings. Also check recent press releases for news about plant expansions, new product roll-outs, or sponsorship of events.
- News. Research anything written or said about the organization in the media. Have they been recognized for donations and volunteer work in the community? Criticized for treating employees unfairly? Profiled for innovations in their field? Or identified in a “best places to work” list?
What if I don’t’ really understand my own work values?
If you don’t really have a handle on what’s important to you in a job or the type of culture you work in, start by taking the Work Values Matcher, an assessment-type tool that takes about 10 minutes. Your results will help you name and describe your work values more clearly, and that in turn will help you recognize employers that share your values.
The six “universal values” are Support, Recognition, Achievement, Working Conditions, Independence, Relationships.
For each value, you will learn how to recognize a position or workplace that features the value, and find questions for job interviews, employer research or informational interviews to help identify an organization’s work values.
A position or workplace where Independence is featured often has these qualities:
- Employees are able to determine the best approach for a project or task.
- Employees are supported or even expected to use creativity to problem-solve challenges.
- The organization provides clear direction or goals for workers, but then lets the workers manage their own time.
- Workers feel empowered to resolve issues and complaints on their own.
- Employees’ input is invited and welcomed by co-workers and managers.
- The employer listens to employee ideas and provides feedback.
- Employees (in roles like yours) operate with little or no supervision.
- Risk taking is considered part of the work culture.
- Working from home / flexible hours may be part of the organization’s approach.
For employer research or informational interviews, use these questions to learn how the employer views Independence.
- How would you describe the organization’s approach to risk taking?
- In your experience, how does the organization view individual initiative to solve problems?
- Do you find the organization open to employee input? Could you describe any channels the organization has for soliciting employee input?
For job interviews, these questions will help clarify opportunities to express your value for Independence.
- How would you describe your supervision style with employees?
- How do you prefer employees handle issues and problems that come up?
- Could you describe the level of autonomy in this position?
- I’m wondering what opportunities there might be for taking initiative in this role. Could you comment on that?