Date posted: 14/11/2017 4 min read

How to choose the right office culture for you

How do you choose a workplace whose culture will suit you? Here are some ways to check if the new office role is really as good as it sounds.

In Brief

  • You are selling yourself to your employer, but they should also sell their business to you.
  • Work out what is important to you in a workplace and ask questions.
  • Beware of ‘hip’ workplace culture offering fancy perks and ping-pong tables. An in-house bar won’t compensate for a toxic atmosphere.

By Bronwyn Xavier

I once left a job because I had to pose all questions in email form. Even to the person who shared my desk.

While I enjoyed the work and was wowed by the modern office and amenities, personal interaction was minimal and if you were away from your desk, you were seen as not working. Face-to-face meetings and discussions were avoided and long email chains were king. While there was nothing inherently wrong with this way of working, it didn’t suit me at all.

In hindsight, there were red flags and clues everywhere to inform me of the culture I was entering. Paying attention could have saved myself, and the company, a lot of time and effort.

Workplace culture is the personality, essence and ethics of the workplace; it’s “the way we do things round here”. It can be hard to change, or escape, once you’re in, so it’s imperative you attempt to grasp the culture and whether it’s the right fit for you.

What are the things you should be looking out for?

So can we really determine what kind of workplace we are walking into? While culture is often hard to determine from the outside, there are a few factors to look out for to aim for a great cultural fit. 

Presumably you have already researched the company and read its mission or vision statement; a summary of its core values and aims. While these provide a great insight into the essence of a company, it’s important to remember that these mission statements are highly polished versions and often differ from the daily reality. Researching customer profiles or reviews or previous employees opinions can create a more complete picture.

Take time to honestly assess your priorities when it comes to your working style and corporate culture preferences. Be honest with yourself and your employer. There is little point in extolling your collaborative skills when, in actual fact, you work better on your own. Pinpoint your goals and what you need from your employer to help you achieve them.

Be wary of the blatant signs of a “hip” workplace culture. An in-house bar on Friday nights sounds great in theory, but can be a nightmare if the everyday culture is toxic. Similarly with gym memberships or extra holidays. Are they perks that are really important to you? Are they enough to compensate for the pressure of the day-to-day? Your success and happiness in the role ultimately comes down to the routine of the everyday. 

Try to notice how people are interacting with each other and if it seems a supportive and friendly workplace. 

Questions you need to ask

In your quest to sell your best self to your potential new employer, it’s easy to forget they should also be selling themselves to you. And while they may try to woo you with fancy perks and ping-pong tables, a few key questions can cut through the hype and tell you what you really want to know. 

1. How do you measure and celebrate successes? 

2. Where do you see the company in five years time?

3. What’s the best thing about working for this company?

4. Are there growth opportunities and what do these look like?  

The answers to these questions can reveal what is most important to your potential new employers and what a new career with them would be like.

Related: Culture shock holds back Asian employees

Immigrants from east Asia are finding cultural differences in the workplace challenging, with big differences in communication styles, approaches to leadership and mechanisms for feedback.

Bronwyn Xavier is a freelance writer based in Australia.