I spend around 40-50 hours a week on a full-time job,  which is 50% or more of my waking hours per day. These days, I’ve grown to truly value the influence that work culture and environment has on my happiness scale. People may have said to separate work and ‘personal’ life, but when half of it is spent in the office then it’s easier said than done. I’ve personally come to believe in the impact of an environment that cultivates and improves my skills,  keeps me challenged, growing, and happy. When I was in the middle of transitioning jobs, this was a deciding factor that determined which companies I applied for.

Culture and work environment may not always be visible to a newcomer’s eye on the get-go, but a little bit of research definitely helps:

  1. The company’s core values — it may be found in the company’s site, or maybe someone’s blog or slides shared online.
  2. Glassdoor reviews — I’m able to get different perspectives when it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of a company. Things won’t be perfect on all fronts, but I can narrow down characteristics that I find are most important for myself.
  3. Personal experiences — the tech industry in some countries like Singapore is quite small, so for the more established (or popular) companies it is possible to ask around and find out what the work culture and environment is like there (are the engineers overworked? Is everyone doing overtime? How are the benefits? Are you happy?).
  4. Interviewers — I also ask the people who interview me about what keeps them in the company. This may be a biased (usually positive) POV, but it also helps me compare if these are things that I value as well.

There are some comparative work environments that make a huge difference for me:

Collaborative vs. siloed

Do teams work independently of each other, or do they work to support each other? More collaboration between teams mean that ideas, data, and skills are more easily shared. Siloed companies often feel like each team is moving in their own pace without much regard to what other teams are building. Some conflicts may arise, especially in communication, where teams that run on their own don’t work together. Siloed teams would have different goals, whereas a collaborative culture helps everyone make more informed decisions and promote knowledge-sharing.

Open vs. secretive

Is management transparent when it comes to how decisions are made, the state of the company, what the strategy and goals are? I found it difficult to come up with plans or to prioritize when the team didn’t understand what the company wants to achieve, and how they plan to achieve it. It’s also very jarring when secrets and speculations float around the company. The fact is, people talk and it’s better to build a culture of trust than try to give employees false reassurances. Being honest about the company or product also helps teams make informed decisions.

Inclusive vs. exclusive

Does work culture favor the few “chosen ones”, or is there equal opportunity for everyone to be heard? Favoritism ruins trust and respect, and also lowers motivation and morale.

How easy is it to talk to people from other teams? Everyone is coming from a different perspective and sometimes (maybe, oftentimes) there may be some things that I wasn’t able to consider until someone brings it up. It also sheds light on what might affect people from different teams, especially when I may be thinking too often from the user’s perspective. Cultivating a culture of inclusiveness  may encourage other people from different teams to speak out, engage each other in conversations, and slowly transform raw ideas into great ideas.

Supportive vs. unresponsive

When issues are brought up or members from a team ask for help, do they get any response? Is the response followed up by inaction? When it takes too long for issues to be resolved (maybe never), it may affect team morale, happiness, and productivity. But when the culture is one that listens to people in the company and measures are put in place to address the problems, it fosters a network of support and improvement (as individuals and as a company). When ignored, it just creates a cycle of recurring problems thatwill drive people away.

PROACTIVE VS. REACTIVE

Is it a culture that not only encourages but also kick-starts initiatives to establish the company’s core values? Or is it an environment that only reacts to events that happen once in a while? Reactions may sometimes be too late, whereas a proactive culture sets good examples and encourages members of the team to do the same.

Sometimes, things don’t always go the way we plan. With every job comes a “honeymoon” phase where everything is so new, shiny, and hopeful until you’ve stayed long enough to see the flaws. Do the good aspects of the company and your work life outweigh the bad? If not, it might be time to rethink how your work life influences your day-to-day living. Life is short, and it’s not worth spending it in misery 8 hours a day.