Workplace Culture: The Google Effect

A random talent of mine is a gift for metaphor. When I am given two unlike objects or ideas, I love finding a way to connect them based on concepts I already know and use (I think this is technically called “scaffolding” by any of you psych experts out there!).  Although I enjoy the process of linking the un-linkable, it’s always nice when someone else goes through the trouble of making the connection for you every now and then.

An article I read this week did this in its union of workplace and culture. As my first post mentioned, “culture” is a difficult term to define – a linguistic nesting doll of possibilities, if you will. For the purposes of this blog though, I’ll stick to the definition preferred by my favorite anthropologist, Clifford Geertz: “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, and I take culture to be those webs.”

Wow, that was deep!  So, if culture is the web connecting us to daily living, what does that mean for the workplace?

Knowing just how difficult culture is to define in a linguistic sense, I admire one article’s effort to establish ways for potential employees to assess the prevailing culture of a workplace. Office culture has been a trending topic for years, especially since the advent of companies like Google. In fact, an article I read this morning reports that nearly a quarter of college students place Google at the top  of their “dream corporations” list, followed closely by Apple. But why is this? What have places like Google and Apple figured out about office culture that other businesses have yet to discover?

Obviously, this question was enough to ignite my anthropological curiosity. After researching Google’s actual corporate homepage, the culture-lover in me was thrilled to see an entire page dedicated to “Our Culture.” Here everyone can see how diversity, personal well-being, intelligence and mutual respect are regarded as top Google workplace priorities. Wait, a company investing in employee well-being? You’re kidding, right? I mean, that’s why Dilbert is funny (and for some, scarily relatable).

The answer to this question seems to be increased, “Nope!” The fact that top corporations like Google and Apple appear to be major flames fueling the “workplace culture revolution” makes it appealing to bet that this fad is actually just getting started…and might be here to stay.

In fact, one of the things that drove me to apply to and later interview at HMA was the cumulative, cultural picture of the company I obtained from my pre-interview research. Given the economy, a majority of individuals are thankful to work anywhere (bonus points if it pays enough to move you out of your parent’s basement!). So being picky about things like a potential employer’s “cultural fit” probably doesn’t cross a lot of interviewee’s minds. But as the article I read this morning so importantly points out, it should.

The positive picture of HMA that I was able to construct from the “cultural clues” left on their website, social media postings and local involvements was confirmed the moment I walked in for my interview. In many ways, I felt like I already knew them before walking in the door. The fact that I never (metaphorically!) “walked out the door” since then should speak volumes for the awesome, collaborative culture I was able to find here at HMA.

How do you define workplace culture?  Or, for that matter, can “work” even really have a culture? Do you think its necessary for values to be shared by a business’ employees?  If you could work for any company tomorrow, what would it be?  Why?

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