It’s a word that’s often thrown around in the workplace.
But what does it even mean? And how in the world can you understand from one or two interviews alone if the company you’re interviewing with has a good, healthy culture?
Culture is much more than a vibe. It’s the beliefs and values that are shared company-wide.
But more on that later.
Without good company culture, you’re more likely to be unhappy in the workplace. People leave their roles when the culture is bad. Sometimes no amount of money is enough if the culture is toxic.
Culture has always been a huge passion of mine. I’ve trained on it for decades and put it into practice at every company I’ve been with — including here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) with my rockstar team of marketing professionals.
In this article, I’ll define culture and explain the five elements of healthy culture in the workplace. While it’s certainly not easy to determine if a company’s culture meshes with your vibe during an interview — and some believe you can’t — I’ll help you understand that you can.
Armed with a list of questions to ask in your next interview, you’ll be ready to find a company you can comfortably call home.
Defining Workplace Culture
Culture is the level of interpersonal trust in an organization that’s built on, and demonstrated by, tangible elements present within it. It drives productivity, morale and company loyalty. It’s a feeling of community and the sense that “we’re all in this together.” It’s the mentality of winning together and sticking together in the good and the bad.
Culture, above all, is about trust and communication. Trust is the very foundation of culture.
The importance of culture is easy to explain: You spend the majority of your waking hours at work. The quality of your work life has a big impact on your quality of life overall. It has the power to shape who you become professionally and personally.
The benefits of a good culture are even more tangible now than they were 20 years ago when I started training on this topic. That’s why it’s crucial to ask key questions to see if a company’s culture fits you. There’s nothing worse than wanting to leave work as soon as you show up.
The 5 Key Elements of Good Company Culture
You’re far more likely to stay at a company that has good culture and good leadership. If you’re looking for a company to grow with, look for the following traits:
- Trustworthy Leadership
You’ll be able to see a lot of these characteristics demonstrated from the moment you walk into the building for your interview and head to a conference room. For the rest, you can ask a few key questions.
1. Trustworthy Leadership
Trustworthy leadership, which is closely related to the credibility of leadership, is crucial to a good work environment. In a nutshell, it’s leadership’s believability. How much are leaders trusted? Do their actions match their words? Are they approachable? Can employees freely talk to them and feel comfortable doing so?
Remember when I said trust is the foundation of good culture? If a leader’s words can’t be taken as truthful, trust is impossible in an organization.
Communication is a big part of trustworthy leadership, as is accessibility.
In a company founded on trustworthy leadership, communication is frequent and transparent. Leaders are approachable and go out of their way to be visible and interactive. Important information about the state of the company and each employee’s individual opportunities to contribute are shared widely. Leadership in great cultures never gives employees a reason to be skeptical about their communications.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean the only communications staff members receive are positive. Good, trustworthy leaders answer the tough questions honestly, even if that means they’re telling employees things they don't want to hear. Leadership needs to both address the hard questions and deliver on their promises.
Questions to Ask About Leadership Quality and Trustworthiness
When trying to determine if the company you’re interviewing with demonstrates this value, try asking the recruiter and hiring manager the following questions:
- How often do you see top leaders in the company? Are leaders approachable?
- Give examples of how top leaders interact with front-line employees.
- How often do top leaders meet with front-line employees?
- Where does the company stand and where is it going? How do leaders communicate these initiatives?
- How do employees across the company typically get information?
You’ll also see trustworthy leadership and good communication in how the recruiter or hiring manager communicates with you during the interview process. Do they say they’ll call you back and they don’t? Do they follow through with next steps?
Innovation is founded on respect. Respect is about providing a safe environment to provide ideas and feedback. In turn, this fosters an environment of innovation.
Employees want to feel comfortable bringing up new ideas. They shouldn’t ever feel afraid or anxious they’ll be shot down. Even if they don’t end up being directly used, employees should feel comfortable bringing up processes that could make themselves and the company more efficient. Collaboration should also be respectful. When leadership provides employees a safe space to share ideas, employees, in turn, feel like they belong to an innovative company. Innovation founded on respect leads to loyalty, pride and confidence in the workplace.
Care is also closely tied to respect. Care is especially important to the latest generation entering the workforce, who seek out care and concern in the workplace.
Questions to Ask About Innovation
If you’re trying to figure out if the company is caring and respectful, and therefore innovative, ask the following questions:
- Does the company have a recognition program in place? If so, what does it look like?
- Give an example of how gratitude is shown for the daily work being done — not just on large projects.
- What tools are employees provided to successfully complete their jobs?
- Provide an example of an employee idea that was put into action in your business.
- What is an example of leadership caring for an employee?
You can also get a good idea of respect in the company by seeing if people make eye contact, smile and acknowledge each other as they pass in the halls.
Everyone should share opportunities to grow and receive recognition. Favoritism has no place in a healthy work environment.
Office politics are certainly in play at every office; it’s unavoidable and something we unfortunately all have to work around from time to time. However, how it’s dealt with can have a huge impact on culture. If leadership recognizes it, is it cut off at the knees? Or is it allowed to fester?
Every person defines growth differently. Everyone wants a chance to grow and be given a fair chance to excel in the workplace — from employees who’ve happily held the same position for decades to employees who are working their way up the ladder. No matter what growth looks like for them, they deserve the opportunity.
When you’re treated fairly and have the opportunity to grow, pride in the company naturally follows.
Questions to Ask About Company Fairness
If you’re weighing multiple offers, make sure you ask about fairness. If pay is fair and equitable to other opportunities, the most important factor in employee satisfaction is employee fairness.
- What are your growth opportunities in the company?
- How does leadership address office politics?
- How does the company approach career pathing (and is there a defined career path for the role you are applying for?)
A sure sign of good culture is company-wide pride in one’s job and pride in the overall company. Employees should feel proud of their industry and proud of the work they do every day.
In every company, one of the most telling signs of a good culture is if every employee knows where the company is headed, how they plan on getting there and how each department and employee can contribute.
There are certainly cases where employees — for strategic reasons — simply cannot know everything. However, employees should at least know where their department is going and their role in helping the department succeed.
Questions to Ask About Employee Pride
You can come right out and ask if your interviewer(s) takes pride in their job. You can also ask the following questions to get to the heart of why they may or may not take pride in their role:
- Would you recommend this company to someone else?
- What are you most proud of about the industry you work in?
- How well do you understand the impact you make in your role? What does the company do to help you better understand it?
- Where is the company heading and how are you helping the company get there?
- How do employees stay up-to-date on strategic and departmental goals?
Camaraderie is about mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together, and it's a key component of healthy work culture. Camaraderie is where teams become family.
A hostile work environment isn’t fun for anyone. Team members should get to be themselves at work. Everyone should feel welcome and valued. And when the time comes, coworkers should be able to have fun together at work.
Is work fun all the time? Certainly not. But part of working in a positive culture means employees accomplish goals together and laugh together.
Questions to Ask About Workplace Camaraderie
One way you can really get to the heart of camaraderie on a team is by asking how new employees are treated. For instance, many teams at ATS go the extra mile to make new employees feel welcome before they even get here by sending personalized video welcome messages. We’ll even decorate their desks.
You can even ask to meet with members of the team if desired. Ask them the following questions:
- What was your first day like at the company?
- What is the team like?
- How does the team have fun together? Can you provide an example?
Considering Work Culture in Your Next Job Decision
Culture plays a vital role in the workplace, extending far beyond mere vibes or atmospheres. It encompasses shared beliefs, values and the level of trust within an organization.
Remember, the five key elements of healthy company culture are:
- Trustworthy leadership
These elements contribute to a sense of community, loyalty and productivity within the organization.
Cultivating a healthy culture is crucial to avoid unhappiness and dissatisfaction at work. Individuals may even leave their current roles due to poor culture, highlighting the significance of finding a company with a positive work environment.
Understanding a company’s culture during the interview process is crucial to determine if it aligns with your personal and professional aspirations. The days of one-sided interviews are long gone. Now, you have the opportunity to vet the company just as they vet you. Be sure you have questions prepared.
Evaluating culture during the interview process involves asking pertinent questions about the things related to culture that matter most to you, personally. For trustworthy leadership, inquire about the accessibility and transparency of top leaders. To assess innovation, explore how ideas and feedback are encouraged and respected within the company. Regarding fairness, inquire about growth opportunities and how office politics are addressed. For pride, ascertain if employees understand the company’s goals and their role in achieving them. Lastly, regarding camaraderie, ask about how daily projects are typically accomplished, or ask how new employees are welcomed and integrated into the team.
By considering these aspects and posing thoughtful questions, you can make informed decisions about whether a company’s culture is a good fit for you. Remember, culture profoundly shapes your work experience, so finding a company that aligns with your values and aspirations is crucial for long-term satisfaction and success.
You should not only consider the company’s culture in your job decision, but you should consider these seven tips for deciding between job offers. (Hint: One of the tips encourages you to ask a lot of questions.)