Work stress part 4 – welcome back to part 4 of my series on how to relieve or manage stress at work. In this article we consider the impact of company culture on stress. What is it, and what can you do about it?

What is company culture and what can I do about it, Veronica?

The culture is about what it is like to work somewhere. How people are treated and treat each other.

  • Are the working hours long and punishing, or is everyone quite relaxed and laisse-faire?
  • Are achievements genuinely celebrated, or is praise sparse and blame frequent?
  • Are the pay and perks generous, or stingy?
  • Is the company supportive and nurturing, or cynical and exploitative?

These are all extremes, and of course many places have a mix of features, but these are the kinds of questions to explore.

1. Reality Check

How long have you worked at your present company, and how well do you think you understand the culture?

Some companies are genuinely schizophrenic about themselves – they think they act one way, or aspire to act one way, but the reality on the ground is at total odds. You usually have to be at a place a while to really get to the heart of it – 6 months plus.

Warning signs are if people who have been there a lot longer than you see a different version of the truth (they may be jaded, but they may have a point), or if certain phrases are used over-emphatically with very little evidence to support (“we tell it how it is”, “we work together”).

Look hard at upper management – what kind of people get promoted in this environment? Find out the reality first.

2. What are you in conflict with?

Which aspect of the company culture is grating? And why? Is it one thing, or lots? More importantly what do you like about it? Make a list of likes and dislikes. How do the things you like serve you (i.e. what aspects of your life or goals do they support?) Why do the things you don’t like conflict with your needs or wants?

3. Can you get more of what you do like, and less of what you don’t?

This question is important, because there is some extent to which engaging with the culture of a company is a choice. It is also certainly possible to emphasise more bits of it than others.

Here’s an example. Say the company is very good about putting it’s staff through lots of training, but you don’t like the gossipy culture, which feels hostile and back-stabbing. Can you get yourself put on lots of training courses to serve your own goals of personal development, and choose to avoid some of the gossip situations for a while, maybe by being too busy training (!) You don’t have to let yourself get collared round the water cooler.

4. Can you change the culture?

This one is tougher. Culture is hard to define and hard to change. Even CEO’s struggle to change the culture of their own companies. Where do you sit in the organisation? Are you part of a team, or do you manage one? Can you nudge things in the direction you would like? Can you change your little corner? A lot of companies have consultations, or campaigns about values, or even recruit value ambassadors to work as change agents within themselves. Are any opportunities like this available to you? Managers may be hostile to suggestions, or they may be very open to creative and positive ideas.

5. Should you move?

If you love the job and hate the culture of the company you work for, then it often seems like the answer is to move companies. After all – why go in every day to somewhere you are at odds with. It can feel like choosing to drop yourself into a pit of snakes every day. Insanity!

BUT – approach with caution. First go through the steps above – if you can make what you have work that is often the best option. Moving for some will be just the solution, but you need a way to evaluate carefully what you are moving too. As above – some companies present themselves in a very different light to the reality. You cannot do enough research. You should also bear in mind your longer term goals. If your job is just perfect FOR NOW, stick with it FOR NOW, but evaluate often to see if what you need and want now has changed.

Good luck in your quest to beat cultural misfit! What are your biggest problems at work? Let me know, and post below.