The Value of ‘Company Culture’

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I am an inveterate comparison shopper. The internet is a vast trove of unfiltered community, each site brimming with hundreds of thousands of desk jockey and stay-at-home moms, eager to share their opinion with anyone who will listen. I consult product reviews before I do pretty much anything, getting lost in the mire of Amazon reviews of cat litter, or customer reviews of the boots I’m about to buy. My search for a dutch oven that doesn’t cost an arm and leg is an ongoing, two-year quest, enhanced by constant consumer research. I like my decisions helped along with the opinions of others. I apply this same principle to the job search. That is why I have embraced the glory of Glassdoor.com.

The information you find on Glassdoor is awesome, because it manages to answer the kind of questions that you desperately want to ask in job interviews, but can’t. Do you want to know how much someone gets paid? Peruse the anonymous submissions of salary ranges. Are you wondering if the upper management or a specific company has their head up their ass and are incapable of running a business professionally or intelligently? A deep dive into the long list of anonymous employee reviews is one of the most edifying things you can do in your job search.

Granted, you should take these reviews with a tiny grain of salt. No one really eats an amazing, fabulous meal and then rushes home to the computer to bang out a 500-word Yelp review, but if your waiter forgot all of your food and spilled a bottle of red wine in your lap, you find yourself furiously tapping out vitriol on your phone the minute you’ve left the restaurant.

I imagine Glassdoor reviews are written after almost everyone else in the office has gone home, and the scribe is left at her desk, alone, Seamless open in one tab and a beckoning text box, waiting for their opinions in the other. The anonymity is freeing. You can say the things that you’d say to upper management if only given the chance, ushered in to that cool, glass-walled conference room, and staring across a reclaimed wood table at a man in a button-down and very expensive glasses.

“The culture sucks. I work too much. Pay me more. Why don’t you match our 401(k) contributions; don’t you have the smallest amount of care for what your valued employees are actually doing for you? I would love it if I had dental insurance or at least could leave work at 6. One or the other is fine, really. “

When you’re at a job interview, the person speaking to you is sipping from a paper cup full of the Kool-Aid, or is at least doing a decent job of acting like it. They put on the face they use for company, because that’s what you do when there is someone eager and lightly sweaty and wearing a nice shirt, sitting across a table from you toying with the edge of their resume. They’ll extol the virtues of the company, because that’s what you do when you’re interviewing someone. Rare is the job interview where the pretense drops, and the interviewer shoots you a look that says, “I leave to go home every night at 8, and I don’t have dental insurance.”

Rare is the job interview where the pretense drops, and the interviewer shoots you a look that says, “I leave to go home every night at 8, and I don’t have dental insurance.”

There are signs that are impossible to ignore, but hard to suss out unless you have experience. That row of people staring glassily into the screen of MacBooks are either thrumming with industry and job satisfaction, or all silently refreshing job boards and quickly minimizing tabs when their boss sneaks up from their blind spot. One job interview recently had me sitting in a huge room in the center of the office, next to two bros who were jovially playing ping pong while I gamely tried to explain away a prolonged gap in my resume. There was a tray of cookies on the kitchen island and staffers ran around, toting MacBooks and acting busy, but loving it.

Company culture is a crucial part of enjoying where you work. It is essential to your personal happiness. Lots of employers promise free lunch, convivial coworkers and the happy go-lucky feeling you get from being able to have the luxury of selecting the kind of office chair you’d like. These perks, on paper, look great. If you’ve spent the majority of your career toiling away at places with weird carpeting and Staples-brand Aeron knockoffs that hurt your back and make you heave loud, heavy sighs during the workday, then the promise of a laid-back workplace is incredible. “Free cab rides after 7 p.m.!” you think. “What a magical place that really cares about their employers! I’d love to work here.”

The start-up model of workplaces is so prevalent now that most places advertising these kind of perks are actually half-assing it. We all know the kind of place we want to work at: somewhere that respects its employees and their time, with benefits and a steady paycheck that comes more or less when they say it will. You want to work with people whom you respect for the most part, like almost all of the time, and get along with enough to sit in meetings without wanting to throw a pencil across the table at their smug faces. Cloaking an office full of overworked young people in stray bags of Pirates Booty and the occasional box of organic cereal is not the way to win employees hearts. Company culture should not be an afterthought.

If the workplace you come to every day is a toxic cesspool of broken dreams and general malaise, all the money, health insurance and Cheez-its in the world won’t make up for it. The culture is the air that you breathe at work, it’s the sludgy soup that you walk through on your way to the bathroom, or when you wander up to the front desk to pick up the chopped salad or three roll sushi special you ordered for lunch. It’s what makes the hours you spend at work tolerable. It’s the thing that keeps you in the job, despite your manager who never listens to you, or that one coworker who you can’t ever agree with. It’s one of the most important parts of a job.

 

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

Photo: Cristiano Betta

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