It’s to an employer’s long-term benefit to hire people who will be satisfied with the working conditions. Hiring someone who isn’t going to be happy with the job may end with the employee leaving for another job. As any job hunter will prefer to avoid job-hopping in favor of a position that satisfies his interests, finding an employer that provides the right corporate culture is a high priority.
But how to assess a positive corporate culture? It is difficult to determine without going to interviews and meeting multiple employees of the organization, and indeed it can take weeks or months of actually working there to really understand whether you are comfortable. After all, corporate policies are one factor that affects corporate culture, but the other important factor is the people who work there.
Official policies and non-policy factors affecting corporate culture can include:
- Dress code. This could also include hairstyle, jewelry, accessories, even fingernail art or tattoos. Tolerance can vary not only by company but by people within the company.
- Working hours. Many people expect to put in some unpaid overtime in Japan. How much is too much for you?
- Project management organization. Are meetings conducted more often than necessary, or just enough to facilitate good communications and inter-office relations? Does it take many weeks and many meetings to enact even the simplest plan, or is management responsive to new ideas? Is credit given for good work, or do senior workers get the credit (and bonuses)?
- Office arrangement, e.g. décor, lighting, workstation type. One European manager noticed that his Japanese employees tended to stack up books and papers in their workstations so they had a personal “cave” which hid them from coworkers. He implemented workstation organization methods to eliminate this effect, creating a more open environment where people could talk and collaborate more easily.
- Perks, such as employee canteen or rest areas, gym memberships, access to cafes/restaurants nearby. Even the neighborhood can affect the workplace mood.
- Environment within the workplace, such as friendliness of coworkers, noise level, etc. can support or detract from a productive work experience. By this I mean more about the attitude of people there: whether they are creating a more fun, or hostile environment, in the way they speak on the phone or to each other. Do people seem afraid to talk to each other or do they openly share in conversation?
When considering applying for a job at a company, it can be helpful to research the company before the interview process, which can help guide your questions during the interview. However, reputation of a company in the news is usually based on business/industry challenges, rarely on career-satisfaction assessments. One mistake I often need to coach my candidates on is not to ask their friends’ opinions of the company. Why? Because typically, their friends have never worked or interviewed there! Too many people pass up on excellent career opportunities based on gossip, rather than spend an hour getting to know the company in an interview. Any interview will provide an opportunity for deeper insight, even when initial impressions are ambivalent.
Asking about employee turnover might give you an idea of employee morale within the company, but it could also reflect the normal business cycle or a depressed economy. There are an unlimited number of questions you could ask to help you determine corporate culture, and each case is rather different. So, research well, find a good career coach, and keep an open mind.