Company culture is one of those intangible things that transforms a good workplace into a great one. It’s become a key tool for recruiters looking to attract the best candidates, or employers trying to increase employee retention.

A decent pay package and office perks aren’t enough to keep people happy now. Instead, employees consider the whole deal like what work/life balance they can expect, the office vibe and the kind of colleagues they’ll be working with. Company culture is an important part of this. It will become a bigger deal for hiring as skilled workers become more scarce in the future.

As such, it makes sense that companies everywhere are lauding their culture. But what works for one employee might not necessarily suit another. If you're interviewing for a role it can be challenging to determine whether a company culture is right for you. After all, you’re likely to visit a company only a handful of times during the interview process. You won’t meet many of your colleagues or be fully immersed in the day-to-day office life until you start work, and by then, it could be too late.

What is company culture and why is it important?

Every company will have a different view on company culture, but broadly speaking, it can be seen as the personality of a company. It’s the environment that employees work in. This comprises a number of factors such as the physical environment (think Google-esque ping pong tables versus glass-walled corner offices), the company values and mission, its ethics, expectations and goals.

It directly links to a company’s financial performance. Businesses with strong cultures reported four times higher revenue growth compared to their competitors. Glassdoor found that being awarded a ‘Best Place to Work’ accolade will cause a 0.75% average increase in stock prices.

Building a good company culture, therefore, benefits everyone involved.

The right company culture begins with you

Before you ever look at the nuts and bolts of a company, you must reflect on what kind of culture you’d like to work in. That comprises everything that a culture is made from - the physical environment, your colleagues, the work style and life balance.

Three tips to find your ideal culture

1. What do you want from your work?

Think back to a time when you worked well and were extremely productive. What was the environment like? Did anything stand out or make it special?

Some people work best alone and others prefer teamwork. Open-offices suit some, whilst cubicle and private rooms might create the best work in others. Deadlines can be motivating or hindering, depending on the individual’s response to pressure. Everyone has their own environment where they flourish, and this exercise focuses on finding yours - so that you can align it with any future workplaces.

2. What makes you happy?

This goes beyond looking at your ideal work environment to your lifestyle and how your work fits in with this. What areas of your life do you want to prioritise? Family life, passion projects, socialising or working on fitness and health are all areas that work can support and fit in with - or hinder.

Similarly, if you have strong values (such as tackling climate change) then you’ll want to avoid companies that don’t share or work against these. Ensure any potential new role is a good fit with your life.

3. Where do you want to be?

This might be a cliched question asked during interviews, but it’s crucial to your longterm career happiness and sense of fulfilment. Consider what kind of skills or experience you’re looking to build in the next five to ten years. Does the company help you achieve this?

Don’t just consider the upward promotional opportunities, but also whether there’s scope to move sideways, travel or do stretch assignments - if these are important to you.

How to determine a company’s culture

Once you understand what motivates you and makes you happy at work, it’s time to look at a company’s culture and whether it fits with your own motivations.

Do a trial run

A simple way of getting to know the company culture is to experience it for a few days. Ask if you can come in and spend some time with your prospective team in a brainstorming session or group meeting. That way, you can get a sense of how they interact with each other, what the daily work is like and whether you’d fit in.

Interview your future colleagues

Talking to people in the organisation is a good way to uncover any office politics, positive signs or potential warnings. Prioritise the people who you’ll be working with day-in-day-out, but also cast a wider net if you feel a need. You could even include alumni of the organisation or their suppliers and clients (if appropriate).

Ask your co-workers what they are working on at the moment and any roadblocks they’ve faced with it. Consider the people who work for the company, if there are many talented and motivated individuals who have worked there for a long time then that’s a good sign of a strong culture.

Understand the management

This is where you get to flip the interview process on its head and ask your direct managers and senior leaders some questions. Find out their goals for the company and team that you’re going to be joining. Also, examine their values - do they align with your own?

Work often means much more than what you accomplish during your 9-5. As Co-Founder of Y Scouts Brian Mohr explains: "We spend a good portion of our lives investing our time, energy and thought into our work. If you don’t connect with the purpose of an organization, then you’re probably not at the right company."

Therefore, you need to think about the impact that the company is having on the world, how senior leadership directs this and whether you care about it.

Rewards for doing good work

Feedback and being recognised for a 'job well done' will keep you motivated and reassured that you’re doing the right thing. It can vastly increase employee engagement, loyalty and performance, but the key is to have the right mix of informal and formal feedback processes. So, before accepting any position, make sure that you understand how the company recognises its employees.

That links to promotions and career development as well. Do you know when to expect a promotion in your new company? Does it link to performance, qualifications or is it time-based? Don’t forget that career opportunities could present themselves in other departments as well.

The right culture will pay more than a salary

Company culture will play a huge part of your workplace happiness, so don’t skim through it when considering a new role. Even if a job comes with a huge pay rise and you’re happy in the short-term, its the company culture that will determine your future satisfaction. Nobody wants to be stuck in a corner office when they’d rather be playing ping pong in an open-plan.

Photo by Venveo on Unsplash.