Sarah Sheppard is a professional writer and editor. You can find her at sarahsheppardwriter.com, @writershep on Twitter, and @sarahsheppardwriter on Instagram.
For as much as we try to describe, define, and control “company culture,” the truth is, it controls us. Do people take long lunches? Are coworkers friends outside work? Can you suggest changes to the CEO? Can you work remotely, if needed?
Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review say “Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.” And while company culture can be a great thing—especially when paired with clear core values and a compelling vision that together drive employee happiness, productivity, and fulfillment—the “detractors” that make people dread going into the office are often billed as positives, making it even more difficult to pinpoint when a good thing has gone wrong.
These are the most common negatives that crop up in company culture—and how you can deal with them without completely disengaging.
Too Much ‘Fun’
Your company has a softball league, a ping pong league, a bowling league, a cricket league, hosts happy hours, works out together, and plans frequent surprise outings. And you’re over it.
Most of us have worked for at least one company where after-hours events are so frequent they start to feel like work. Although it’s good to spend time with coworkers outside the office, you might have family obligations, a prior commitment, a challenging commute, or simply no desire to go. (Plus, InHerSight has found that super social workplaces are more appealing to men, but we digress.)
Instead of slogging through your overbooked social calendar, make a list of the after-work events you feel would be most beneficial to you, then pass on other activities.
When you do go to events, engage with others and leave when you’re ready. You can also invite coworkers to take midday walks or join you for coffee breaks if you don’t want to participate in office happy hours. The important thing is that you show your coworkers that you’re interested in getting to know them. It will help your career in the long run.
Too Much Group Think
Collaboration is definitely a good thing because it builds unity and gets people excited about working toward same vision. But when that feeling of like-mindedness doesn’t welcome constructive criticism, it can go terribly wrong. Quickly, “group think” leads to unapproachable management who are either unaware of problems or unwilling to consider views and ideas that don’t mesh with what’s on the existing roadmap.
Being open-minded and forthcoming is extremely important for a company (and its employees) to thrive. So what do you do, when you disagree with the way your department is being run or when you want something major to change? Ask for a sit-down with your manager. If they are not receptive to your ideas, go to your manager’s manager. If this doesn’t work, talk with somebody from human resources. Let them know where you’re at, what you’re struggling with, and how best to resolve the issues you feel are disrupting your work or preventing you from being successful in your role.
Too Much ‘Work’
Hard work (or the illusion of it) can be a slippery slope for companies, and it can have a big cultural impact. When there is constant pressure to stay late, work longer hours, and spend all your waking time at a company, all sorts of morale, and diversity and inclusion problems can follow.
In the United States, 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week. When you’re working more than 40 hours, you’re taking time away from your family, your friends, your side business, your self-care. How do you avoid staying late but still get recognized for your hard work?
Flexibility is key. If you show you are willing to put in the extra work (and skip lunch out every so often), your team should recognize your efforts and respect your choice to leave at 5 p.m. If they don’t, sit down with your manager and see if they are willing to be more flexible. Maybe you could work from home a day or two a week (and save on the commute time) or maybe your manager would be willing to pay you extra money (or a higher salary) for the extra hours. Don’t let the pressures of staying late destroy your work-life balance.
Too Much Camaraderie
When you spend a large portion of your week with coworkers, it's easy to form a bond with them. Plenty of people meet friends, even significant others at work, which is great. But sometimes, things can get too “friendly” and those relationships can turn stressful, even toxic, to your work environment. Setting harassment aside, much of that stress and toxicity comes from gossip.
Whether it’s jealousy, frustration, a disagreement, or a mistake, understand that tension will arise between you and your coworkers. Sometimes, you simply can’t avoid conflicts.
Make sure you are communicating with your coworkers but separating yourself when you feel the conflict affecting you negatively. Remember, you will have to see these people day in and day out. If the conflicts continue to arise and disrupt your work, don’t be afraid to address the problem head-on. If it becomes toxic, speak with your manager, and as a last resort, report it.
As you navigate the pressures of your company, understand that you don’t have to support and follow every cultural norm. It’s okay to resist, to question, and to say “no.” Too often, the pressure to be “perfect” at work prevents women from actually thriving in their roles. There isn’t one path or one way to succeed—and you may be surprised to learn that maintaining a healthy work-life balance will help you achieve your career goals.