Where do you work? A bank? Factory? Doctor’s or counselor’s office? WHAT do you do? Bank teller? EA professional? Physician? Dental hygienist? Now… ask the same people what the CULTURE is like where they work, and you can expect some of the same respondents to roll their eyes at you.

You can’t blame them really, because while workplace culture is important, it tends to fly under the radar in many instances. This is a shame, because I have often found that workplace culture often has more to do than any single reason why an individual can succeed – or fail – on the job. It’s never ceased to amaze me that I have been doing the same type of work in many ways for a lot of years… that being writing, editing, and so on. And yet, it hasn’t been unusual to be fired from one job, while told I was doing great somewhere else! That’s not all.  I once had two editors that were my immediate supervisors: one thought I was doing a good job – while the other one did not!

What gives? This is where workplace culture comes to play, and along with it expectations, micro-cultures, and other factors we’ll have to save for another time. Let’s go back to the previous editors I mentioned, and their two, very different expectations. I was very happy at the time being an associate editor, and the one editor who liked my work was quite pleased with that. He could count on me to do what I was told, do my job well, and make all of the necessary deadlines.

In the case of the other editor, these sorts of tasks and responsibilities were a given. You did them, maybe even well, but so what? This editor didn’t like it if you didn’t aspire to “move up the ladder.” Different editors, different expectations.

What about the culture in general? I have worked with mostly single people when I was married, and mainly married co-workers when I was single – neither is ideal, in fact, both scenarios can be enough to drive you out the door.

Of course, there is more to culture than whether one wears a wedding band or ring. Much more. “Culture, the foundation of any workplace, is made up of individual behaviors,” explains Jennifer Sumiec, CEAP, in her article, “Is that an Elephant in the Room?” “Culture sets expectations for which behaviors are reinforced or extinguished,” she adds.

Sumiec notes that many workplace programs and benefits, including EAPs, are sometimes too focused on the individual and fail to consider the broader cultural context within which those individuals exist. After all, it’s often said that people don’t quit their companies, they quit their bosses!

What does this all mean? “In addition to addressing individual concerns, EA professionals are uniquely positioned to help organizations explore systemic issues,” Sumiec concludes.

However, Sumiec says that the bigger issue is that of MICRO-cultures that form across organizations based on norms established by individuals and leaders within a department or team. While some aspects of culture may be found throughout an organization, Sumiec states, often there are pockets of discontent OR high engagement and productivity.

Again, I completely agree – and can cite examples. At a particular daily newspaper I was a reporter at, there were several newsroom teams that took turns getting out the Saturday paper on Friday evenings. One group, the one that worked alternate Fridays from mine, got along quite well, but only did enough work to get by compared to our team, which cared a lot more about putting out a good product. This of course created animosity between the two groups – I hesitate using the word “team” because neither of us were.

These were micro-cultures at their worst, but it’s not the only example I could name. Newsrooms in general, regardless of the specific paper, tended to be “their own little world,” set apart from the rest of the newspaper departments. “You’re the one department that loses money,” I recall being told once from a publisher. Nice. Unfortunately, I doubt that this sort of toxic environment is that unusual regardless of the type of business.

What does this all mean? “In addition to addressing individual concerns, EA professionals are uniquely positioned to help organizations explore systemic issues,” Sumiec concludes.

It’s been my experience, at least, that there are WAY too many work cultures with conniving, backstabbing, and petty situations in which star employees leave – and WAY too FEW that are thriving, positive places with engaged and satisfied employees.

Workplace culture – don’t overlook it. I don’t.