Should I stay or should I go? How workplace culture impacts career choices

You will often hear people say that great employees don’t leave their company, they leave their boss. The implication being that a manager has the most influence over whether or not a person stays with their organisation.

It’s true that managers have a huge impact on whether a person chooses to stay in a particular job, but would you stay and work for a great boss if everything else about the company culture felt rotten to you?

What culture isn’t

If we’re going to talk about leaving a company culture that’s perceived as “good”, first let’s look at what that is. If I asked you to conjure up a few companies with strong cultures you might think of Google, Virgin or Netflix. Culture isn’t about rooms filled with beanbags and getting around the office on a scooter, it’s about so much more than that.

Some people would say culture is “the way things are done around here”. Culture is about behaviours, systems and practices which are guided by a defined set of values.

It’s easy to spot gaps in what a company says is its culture, and what the culture actually is. Say work-life balance is heralded as important to the company, but then employees are expected to stay late, manage emails on holiday and presenteeism is rewarded. Very clearly in those conditions, work-life balance isn’t part of company culture.

So “good” culture isn’t about a cool office, free fruit, or lunchtime yoga classes (although they would say something about a company’s regard for employee health), it’s about the way the company is run. Some companies make the mistake of making bold claims about their values and culture on their websites yet when people join they don’t see these backed up in reality. Checking out company reviews on Glassdoor, Indeed and Google can give you some insight into culture, but, as with all reviews, they need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is difficult to pull out examples of companies who do this brilliantly because if I do that will be through my lens and using my values and what I enjoy. Culture is the personality of a business so just like choosing your friends, your choice in what makes a good culture is personal to you.

Whenever I ask groups in training to consider what motivates them to give their best performance at work, company benefits never rank highly. Things such as interesting and challenging work, feeling involved, being recognised and valued, and opportunities to learn, grow, develop and advance all do.  Whilst company benefits are great, the truth seems to be that they are nice to have. If you have good benefits but people don’t feel motivated, involved and valued then you could lose your good.

Actions speak louder than words

We’ve all seen value statements on the reception wall. At Huel, for example, their reception wall is emblazoned with “Don’t be a dick,”. Huel is a nutrition company which has grown quickly and has a target audience with which that statement should resonate. That strapline is distinct from its mission – to make nutritionally complete, convenient, affordable food with minimal impact on animals and the environment. Yet you can get a sense of the culture from the bold statement combined with the mission.

But what if someone within Huel was behaving badly to a colleague? What if decisions were being taken which didn’t align with that mission, say which compromised animal welfare? How people responded to those actions would speak for whether “Don’t be a dick” is an accurate reflection of the company’s culture, or just an eye-catching statement that did well on social media.

How cultures can get diluted

When companies are small it’s easier to define and control the culture. On the podcast How I built this, Tony Hsieh of Zappos talked about how the dilution of the culture at the first company he built caused him to hate going into work and ultimately made him sell, then refuse to work his earn out period, leaving him with less money that he could have had. It was his company, and the change in culture was such that he hated going to work!

The dilution was caused by fast growth which meant swift, and possibly less than careful, recruitment, watering down the original can-do attitude and dedication Tony and his co-founder had originally enjoyed.

Changes to the overwhelming population of an organisation don’t have to result in alteration of the culture, but avoiding it needs incredibly strong leadership. People will imitate – consciously or otherwise – the actions that they see, so as long as leaders behave in a way that’s congruent with the desired culture, it’s likely that culture will continue. It’s when behaviour that strays from the culture goes unchallenged that the wheels can come off.

What to do if you want to leave

You might have started work some years ago in a company with a culture you enjoyed but it’s different now. Whether it’s your life or priorities that have changed, or the company culture that has shifted, there’s nothing so exhausting as working under conditions you just don’t enjoy. Or maybe you have just joined a new business and based on the job description and interview you thought it was going to be a good match for your values and culture, but having joined it is not meeting your expectations. If you are experiencing this you need to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you are having and think about what your solution might be.

If you decide to stay, can you discuss your concerns with someone within the company or challenge the behaviours you don’t like?  Can you adjust your mindset and tolerance to accept some of the different ways of working because of the other positive things about the role?

If you need to make a move, I’ve written plenty of times about how to successfully move jobs, but here are a few places to start:

  1. Make a plan for the type of role you want next – tips here
  2. Having shared values with a company is a great way to have more certainty that you’re going to be comfortable in your new company culture
  3. If something is going to change you need to take action. I wrote some tips for how to take the first – and next – steps here

If you want support with defining your job or the next step in your career, give me a call to arrange a free chemistry session on 07765 894040.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.