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Is your company culture driving talent out the door?

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December is a time when many people pause to contemplate how fulfilled they are in their current professional role and size up a potential move in the new year. A decisive and often overlooked factor in this consideration is company culture — a magic ingredient for employers and employees alike. Persephone Nicholas reports.

Is finding a new job top of your list of new year’s resolutions? Are you determined to make 2010 the year you escape the claws of your toxic boss?

All too many of us start the new year resolving to escape our employers and rush into a new role without giving enough consideration to exactly what it is we’re trying to escape. And then we go right ahead and join another company that’s just as bad for us, albeit in a different way.

Careers guru Kate Southam has a two-word answer for those wondering why they’re never happy at work. Corporate culture. Southam is editor of CareerOne.com.au‘s online magazine and author of syndicated newspaper and web column ‘Ask Kate‘ plus blog, Cube Farmer. She says finding the right professional fit means doing your homework at the outset.

There is no magic to finding the right employer.
“Know what your own values are. Make a big list. If you’re struggling with that, ask people around you, ‘What do you hear me say consistently? What do I like about managers and not like about managers? About workplaces?’ If you don’t know what is important to you in terms of cultural values, how can you even research or quiz an employer during an interview process as to whether they have what you’re looking for.”

Defining priorities is a must.
“If you’re a woman who has done quite well but is always banging your head on the ceiling or finding the blokey culture a bit much, why wouldn’t you start with something like the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) website and see who are the employers of choice for women?”

“There are lots of places you can find out about a company’s values and workplace culture — through awards like the Hewitt Best Employer Awards, through doing news searches and reading the business pages. There are different websites and employers of choice for people with a disability, indigenous awards for employers. It’s those sorts of things that give you the ability to use the interview process to see if the employer walks its talk.”

It pays to do the legwork.
“It’s important to talk to someone who’s worked there or still works there. Ask questions. Is there micro managing? What is the management style? Is it across the board or does it come down to every manager managing as they want to? Sometimes there are sub-cultures you need to be aware of.”

Those currently in the wrong working environment should be pragmatic.
“Common sense would tell you you’re not going to change the culture of an organisation to suit you. You’ve got to think, ‘What can I suck out of this job? What can I focus on as a learning experience while I’m starting to look for other opportunities? How can I leverage the people here to create a new network?’

Focusing on positives can be a lifeline.
“The real danger is to allow the cultural misfit to start making you doubt yourself. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the employer and there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just not a good fit. But if you don’t try to find something positive in the experience it can really start to erode your self-confidence and then you’re going to go out and job hunt and take that negativity with you, whether you like it or not.”

Analyse why you are uncomfortable in a particular culture.
“Identify your fears because you don’t want to make decisions based on fear. If you don’t acknowledge what they are, you’ll take that into the job-hunting process.”

Bronwyn Cook, Marketing Manager with responsible tour operator Travel IndoChina, knows how it feels to be in the wrong workplace culture. Working in the financial services sector taught her that we may need to experience an environment that doesn’t suit us in order to appreciate one that does.

“I had to discover if there was another area of the working world I was missing out on. I didn’t think through financial services being completely different to the travel industry; I just jumped into it thinking, ‘Fine. Good job. I need the money.’

I worked there for two years but knew within six months it wasn’t for me. My attitude was, ‘I have to give it a good go,’ but it just felt wrong. I felt stifled and lacking in creativity and motivation. It was too disciplined an environment for me. It really didn’t encourage me to do my best and I don’t think I was as productive.”

Cook’s personal life as well as her professional standards suffered. “Being in the wrong job or culture can impact broadly on your life outside work. It takes away your optimism and I tended to be a little bit moody, which impacts close relationships.”

She maintained her ties with Travel IndoChina, and when her current role became available, she jumped. “Now I’m in an environment that rewards creativity and that’s one of my strong suits. I’m enthusiastic and love what I do. When it’s right, you just know it’s right.”

Kate Southam is of the same mind. “In a tight employment market like this one, people could be tempted to push workplace culture down their wish list and that’s a mistake. Working in a culture that is right for you will help you flourish and perform and will ultimately help you on a personal level far greater than going for a workplace culture that is wrong for you but where the money is higher, because ultimately you will be unhappy and won’t be able to do your best work.”

persephone-nicholas_profile-pic_140wPersephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle. www.persephone-nicholas.com

Photo: HikingArtist.com

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