Strategies for assessing company culture

AboveBoard | Apr 12, 2023

Use these insights to carefully discern your next opportunity.

Now more than ever, professionals are looking to company culture to inform their job decisions.  

And for most, workplace culture is about far more than enticing amenities or compelling benefits (although, yes, those do matter!). A healthy workplace culture is often indicative of a successful, resilient company. Not only that, today's job candidates want to do meaningful work, and they largely want to do so in an environment where diversity, equity, and inclusion thrive.  

In this article, we'll outline why company culture matters, how to assess it, and questions to ask about company culture. 

Let's get started.

Why does company culture matter?

Reporting during The Great Resignation showed that one of the top reasons people quit their jobs was due to "toxic company culture." That's right. A company's work culture matters. It speaks to the resilience of your organization and the degree to which collaboration and innovation are possible (More on how diverse workplaces and cultures can lead to diversity and innovation here).

So, what is company culture anyway? Here are a couple leading definitions: 

  • According to the Society for Human Resource Management, "an organization's culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding."
  • HubSpot defines company culture as "the values, behaviors, and shared vision that contribute to the environment of an organization. An engaging, enjoyable company culture can attract talent, and can also inspire employees to perform at their best." 

In all, a healthy, robust company culture is a marker of a workplace we all want to be a part of. We all want our perspectives and ideas to be heard, valued, and respected by the people around us. We want to contribute to a shared vision where each team member has a mission and an equitable opportunity to thrive. 

If you're ready to assess the work culture at your prospective new workplace, keep reading.

Strategies and tips for assessing company culture

Do your research

Conducting basic research about the organization you're interested in or interviewing at can tell you a lot about the company culture. Look into the history of the company; their origin story can sometimes tell you about the organizational values more than their missions/values statement can. Read some of the leadership biographies, including C-suite members and directors on the board. What do their backgrounds, expertises, and passions tell you about what the company values? If available, use resources like LinkedIn to see how long team members have worked there. Employees who have invested years of their career at an organization are typically a sign of a positive work culture. On the flip side, keeping tabs on the company's job postings can help you see if the workplace is a revolving door of employees.

Learn from former and current employees

Throughout the interview process, you'll likely have opportunities to speak with current employees at the hiring company. This may be through an informal coffee meetup or in a group panel interview. Take advantage of these opportunities to dive deeper into the company culture. In addition to learning from current employees, resources like Glassdoor can offer insights into the experiences of former coworkers.

Know the signs of toxic workplace culture

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During your interactions with the hiring company, be watchful for signs of toxic company culture. Remember, these are just signs; they may be nothing more. But in some cases, they can be opportunities to press in and ask questions about anything that concerns you.

A few signs of toxic workplace culture can include:

  • High turnover. People stay where they're valued. If publicly available company information or interview details indicate a high turnover rate, that may be a sign of a toxic workplace culture.
  • Lack of boundaries. Healthy workplaces set and maintain boundaries around work. It shows respect for who you are inside and outside of work, and it contributes to making work-life balance possible. Company cultures that pride themselves on hustling around the clock may be a sign of a toxic workplace culture.
  • Non-inclusivity. The hiring organization's diversity and inclusivity, or lack thereof, can be indicative of their workplace culture. Does the organization exhibit diversity? If not, do they want to? Ahead, we'll dive into questions that can help you discern whether you're seeing signs of toxic workplace culture.

Questions to ask about company culture

Open-ended questions can create a space for you to explore an organization's work culture without the risk of sounding overly cynical or skeptical. Here are some questions to ask about company culture:

Questions about workplace culture 

  • How would you describe your company culture?
  • What practices are in place to maintain and foster this type of work culture? 
  • What are the workplace's greatest strengths? Greatest weaknesses? 
  • What sets this workplace apart from others?
  • What does work-life balance look like at this organization?

Questions about team culture 

  • What do you wish employees/team members did more? What do you wish they did less? 
  • Describe the type of employee who succeeds here. What qualities do they have? 
  • Why did the person previously in this position leave? 
  • Which employee(s) have been here the longest? What keeps them here? 
  • What resources or opportunities are available for professional development and career growth?

Questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion

  • What is the company doing to foster diversity?
  • How do you encourage team members to speak up and participate in meetings?
  • What does collaboration look like at this organization? 
  • What steps should an employee take if they experience or witness discrimination in the workplace?

Contribute to healthy, inclusive workplaces with AboveBoard

At AboveBoard, we're on a mission to reshape the global executive workforce to be representative of the population, creating lasting and meaningful change in the world.. We know that a diverse executive leadership can improve business performance, drive fairer hiring practices, and support more  inclusive company cultures. Join AboveBoard today to get direct access to executive leaders, VP and above, who represent a diverse range of communities, skill sets, and professional strengths.  

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