Forget Work/Life, Think Corporate Culture

The first two questions people ask when looking for a new job is "what is my title," and "what is my salary?" Rarely does anyone ask about the culture, the management style, or what are my co-workers like. Then we wonder why we have such a problem with finding that elusive work/life balance in the job we just took.

I have long said it before and I will say it again, there is no work/life balance, there is only life. You never hear the term marriage/life balance. Nor do you hear someone say they're trying to find their child/life balance. Work is a component of life, just as your marriage, your friends, your children and even your time at the gym. The term work/life balance did not even exist before 1986. That was the year the personal computer came on the scene and we start to take our work home with us. Only then did we want to separate our work and life to find balance.

Think of it this way. You spend the most waking hours of your life at work. So if you want to be happy, why is company culture not a priority on your list? Yes, salary and title are important. Success and growth are important. But are they so important that you would risk your happiness on them?

I cannot find a more fitting example of this than the recent departure of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs in describing the culture as "toxic and destructive." So much so, that he felt he could "no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for."

For many people, that was the first time they ever heard the term “corporate culture.” Don’t let it confuse you. Every society has a culture. It is defined by the shared values and practices that group of people have. So think of a company’s culture just like you would a society’s culture. Would you want to visit a country that discriminates and defiles women? Would you want to visit a country known for theft, deception and bullying? Then why would you join a company that follows those practices?

Don't get me wrong, work is and always has been a part of the human condition. It is ingrained in our nature. If you are unhappy at your job, work is probably not your problem, but the culture in which you work might be.

On the bright side, you live in a world and at a time where there has never been more of an opportunity to do what you want, how you want, and with whom you want. Nobody is forcing your or anyone into working anywhere. The very computers that created our work/life conundrum have also created the opportunity to start a business, to work from home, or to join a company large or small, which is why the idea of a corporate culture has never been more important than it is now. Because that will define whether you love your job or loathe it.

As Thomas Monaghan III, chairman and chief executive of Corporate Executive Board, a research and advisory services firm stated, "culture matters." A recent study of 500,000 employees from 150 companies showed that companies with very healthy cultures have lower misconduct and labor costs, and deliver long-term shareholder returns 5.8 percentage points higher than the average company. Why? Because when a company’s goals and values are in line with your goals and values, everyone benefits.

So stop thinking of your job as work, and start thinking of it as a relationship. One in which you will spend the majority of your waking life in. If you take the time to find the right company to partner with, one that has a culture that you want be a part of, one with whom you share the same values, sense of integrity, goals and objectives, then you have the start of what could be a very long and mutually rewarding relationship. If not, then just admit that you're in it for the money and expect to be treated in that light.

So what can you do on your next job interview? Treat it like the start of any relationship. Yes, take a look at the package before you, but also take a moment to delve a little deeper. Take a moment to ask about the culture, the goals, and even the people that you will be working with. Take the time to think beyond the money and the title to make sure it's the right fit for you. It will save yourself, your boss, your co-workers and the HR person a lot of time and trouble in the end. Most important it will save you the need to add "finding work/life balance" onto your to do list. Because if you find the right place to work, one where you fit, then work will just be another segment of your life.

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