Put simply, office culture is the beliefs and behaviors that dictate how a business runs. This encompasses things such as management styles, physical environment, employees, and the dress code. Your office culture may be directly related to how happy you are at work and how successfully things are accomplished. However, each office is likely to have a very different atmosphere. For example, my husband and I work in two totally different fields (he’s in finance, I’m in child welfare) and our office cultures are exact opposites of one another. Keep reading to better understand what I mean.
Management styles: My husband’s office is very flexible. When telling people about it, I often compare it to Google’s offices. There are direct managers and direct reports, but overall there is a more laid back feel to their management style. They regularly encourage taking breaks and often BBQ or have team lunches. Sometimes they even get to extend their lunch while everyone goes and plays a friendly game of baseball or soccer (you’re starting to wish you had this job, aren’t you?). Overall, the CEO and managers feel friendly and relaxed, allowing employees to self-direct when needed and encourage an open atmosphere.
My office is the complete opposite. We are extremely stringent and structured. We are also much, much larger than my husband’s office. Everyone is required to go through their supervisors for pretty much everything and there is a lot of red tape and bureaucratic hoops to jump through. I can’t say that I’ve ever been allowed to play soccer on lunch. However, there is a nice farmer’s market throughout the summer and early fall that provides some relief for the daily stress and deadline feel of the office.
Physical Environment: My husband’s office is located in an adorable house that was transformed into office space. There aren’t any cubicles. Instead, they each have their own desk in different rooms of the house. The kitchen has a huge flat screen TV and large table that can fit most of the employees. Each of their spaces is distinctly their own and feels very homey. In general, the office has a nice flow that makes you feel comfortable the minute you walk in.
I, however, work in a very typical office building filled with rows and rows of cubicles. Offices line the walls meaning there are few windows for many of us. (One of my friends has the luxury of sitting near a window and we discuss how it’s “prime” real estate. Ridiculous, I know) It’s a drab color scheme of white, black, and awful green. (We thought this was going to change recently when they said they were painting the walls, but they painted them the same color. Total fail). It’s probably the same type of building many of you work at. Or, if you’ve ever seen the movie Office Space, it’s a similar set up. We have a small kitchen and a cafeteria downstairs. Overall, it’s not very welcoming or open. It feels and smells like business.
Employees: Employees drive the office culture. In my husband’s office everyone is fun and laid back. They work hard, but they play harder. I’m often told of silly pranks they pull on one another and the very generous attitude of the CEO. It makes for a fun and happy work environment.
I’m not saying that my office isn’t a good work environment, but the employees are definitely not as happy as at my husband’s office. Morale can sometimes be hard to come by. Granted, we work in a much more dismal atmosphere filled with child abuse and neglect cases. Through it all though, most people have a pretty decent attitude that can make the office feel pleasurable the majority of the time. On bad days though, I could do without negative employees.
Dress Code: You’re really going to be jealous now. My husband’s dress code is basically “whatever you feel comfortable in.” Some days he’s in jeans, other days he’s in shorts and flip-flops. On very rare occasions when clients come in, he’s required to dress business casual. I can’t tell you the last time he asked me to iron his shirt which means he hasn’t had to dress business casual in a while. I like to think that every day is casual Friday for him. It’s officially not fair.
My agency is business casual Monday-Thursday with casual Friday. The only exception is if you have a meeting on a Friday. Then, you’re still required to wear your business attire. However, despite these rules, they’re not always followed and/or enforced. For example, that purple velour jumpsuit you got last Christmas really shouldn’t count on casual Friday. Just saying.
Why is this important? The culture of your office will directly influence how you feel on a day to day basis. I’m pretty sure my husband’s office is not super typical, especially in the finance world, but it is perfectly suited to his need to feel part of a team. In my situation, though, I was warned before I even started my job that this atmosphere can be a difficult one due to the politics and nature of the field. It takes a certain kind of person (a person like me who is overly optimistic and friendly regardless of someone’s bad mood) to sometimes make it through successfully in this form of environment. That doesn’t mean others won’t thrive in a bureaucratic workplace, but it can definitely be a challenge for some (my husband is a testament to this because he was miserable at his last, more stringent workplace).
That being said, when looking for a new job, find an office culture that fits your personality. Or, if you’re an entrepreneur, create an office culture that suits your needs. Your choices will likely impact productivity and happiness for you and the employees surrounding you. I don’t suggest going all crazy and not requiring any accountability from your employees and colleagues, but a pot luck party here, a team building afternoon with coffee and cookies there, and even a simple thank you goes a very long way. Even if you’re in a strict environment as I am, learn to appreciate those around you, make an honest effort to lead without micromanaging, and provide a smile and safe space for everyone. You’ll be surprised at how much happier you feel at work.
Now it’s your turn. What is your office culture like? What would you change about it?