When considering which kind of work culture is right for you, it’s important to remember that it’s not just companies that vary widely, but also industries. You have to navigate both.
I worked in television news as a producer off and on for a couple of decades, and when I left that life behind for the nonprofit sector, I experienced something I didn’t anticipate: a huge shift in office culture and environment.
While my straight-to-the-point, often sarcastic delivery fit in well in the newsroom, that wasn’t the case in my new role. I had to learn how to embrace being vulnerable while still being me—to become a team player and allow myself to be a part of a “work family.”
Transitioning from one type of work environment to another seems easy enough, but, in my experience, whether you fit in with you team often boils down to how well you read the room. Is it okay to show emotions when frustrated, or should you stifle those feelings and be a hard ass? How can you be a part of the team without losing yourself along the way?
It took me a while to strike the right balance, but here are three things I learned in the process.
Consider others when reacting, no matter your office’s vibe
A newsroom’s environment lends itself to being blunt and borderline rude because, frankly, there’s not enough time to process someone’s feelings when you have a deadline to meet and to get things on television at 5 p.m. My first job in television taught me that very quickly. A director screamed at me because I messed up a camera shot. It shook me to my core, but after the show, the director walked up to me and said I did a good job. I was so confused, but it also showed me that in television news, you can react without considering feelings during high-level stress times. Afterward, you talk it out or apologize—well, in some cases.
In the nonprofit sector, I had to switch gears entirely. I found that people were more sensitive and offering straightforward feedback could often lead to a puddle of tears and me backing into my cubicle trying to figure out a more gentle way to say, “Can you rewrite this item for the newsletter?”
I learned how to navigate this when I tried to incorporate some of the newsroom practices into the communications department I’m in now, such as creating an editorial calendar and placing deadlines on approvals to bring some sense to what seemed chaotic to me. When my attempts to scale down our meetings from many to one were unsuccessful, I realized I couldn’t force my newsroom neurosis on others who haven’t been in that environment before. I had to adjust to being more flexible and open to my new work culture.
You don’t always have to leave your baggage at the door
As a news professional, most of the managers I worked under lived by the mantra, leave your personal drama at the door. There was no room or time for tears. Of course, I would have days where I was so mad about something an executive producer did, or getting passed over again for another position, or was still grieving the loss of my grandmother, I felt I could not allow them to see how upset I was.
Again, the nonprofit sector took the opposite approach. I left television news for my current job in 2017. At the beginning of 2018, my grandparents’ home burned down and luckily no one was hurt, but it was emotional seeing my safe haven go up in flames and the last things belonging to my grandma lost forever, but no one at my new nonprofit job knew. Like I had in the newsroom, I checked my drama at the door.
Then when we were sitting in a meeting, I was trying hard to not let on what was happening in my personal life, but multiple probing questions by the team led to me tearing up and sharing my baggage.
One of my coworkers brought in a box of clothes to give to my grandfather since he lost everything. I wasn’t sure how to react because that never would have happened in the newsroom. They would have just said, “Show up for work. We need bodies in here.”
The new job offered time off to help my family sort through the ashes of our lives. At that moment, I got a glimpse of what a work family looked like and what it feels like to have help combating personal problems. Over the years, I absorbed the notion that personal baggage can be distracting and affect your job. Ignoring it in the newsroom wasn’t right and, for me, being in an environment where I share every single detail of my life isn’t quite right either, but I’ve found a happy medium of filtering what I do decide to share.
Communicate and let others accept you for who you are
A few weeks ago, nearly two years into my time at the nonprofit, we went on a two-day company retreat. Coming from a newsroom, I had never been on a retreat before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t expect a room full of feelings in a group therapy session. But it turned out to be a good thing.
Everyone expressed to me that I wasn’t vulnerable and hadn’t let down my wall, but they appreciated my say-it-like-it-is nature. They said they could tell I had a lot of feedback to offer just by watching my facial expressions, but they noticed I held back. I told them it was to spare their feelings because I wasn’t used to having to take others’ feelings into consideration when offering feedback.
With both sides on the same page, they gave me permission to show my feelings and talk about what is bothering me when it comes to work flow or if something personal is going on. They told me to stop self-editing what I’m going to say before I say it. They gave the greenlight for me to be my newsroom self with a touch of vulnerability.