By Khalilah Starks

When I think about office culture, Office Space, an absolutely hilarious movie, comes to mind. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must see, even if you don’t work in a typical 9-5 office setting. I’m cracking up right now, just thinking about the hilariously written scenes that mocks the traditional office environment that we either love or hate. By the end of the movie, an extremely disgruntled employee sets fire to the office building…you have to see the movie to truly appreciate the humorous aspect of the ending. And, as the movie ends, the ending credits are accompanied by a song with lyrics that include, “Take this job and shove it.” The sad part is that many employees can relate to at least one element of this movie – the negative environment fostered by clueless management, the feeling of being in a dead-end job, or having to deal with annoying coworkers.

What many fail to realize is that a great office culture can affect an employee’s job satisfaction far greater than salary or benefits. However, many leave this consideration out when evaluating an employment offer. We typically focus on salary and benefits, and neglect to evaluate intangible elements such as office culture. Consequently, what happens is that once that initial excitement wears off and the honeymoon period ends, the misery begins to set in. So, the question that you should always ask yourself when entertaining a job offer is, “Am I comfortable with the culture of the organization?”

When considering office culture, you first need to determine what’s important to you so that you can assess the company according to your own personal standards. There are several elements that create a company’s culture. Is the attire casual or ultra-conservative? Is the environment laid back or uptight? Does management seem to offer an environment that encourages collaboration or are decisions simply handed down without employee input? Does the company create an environment that is committed to employee professional growth? Is it a heavily micro-managed organization or one that celebrates autonomy and independent decision making? Is it a culture that embraces the concept of work-life balance? Do people seem happy? Are they friendly? Does the company have periodic social mixers to encourage positive socializing and interaction among employees. You’d be surprised at how these factors can affect the overall social and cultural climate of the office. Of course, some of these factors won’t be that important to you while others will be highly imperative.

Another thing to consider is the personality and work style of your future boss and colleagues to help you determine if there are any potential personality conflicts down the road. This is why it is important to ask the right questions during the interview. While the company is assessing you, you should be assessing them to determine if the opportunity is right for you. Questions to ask your potential boss to gain clues about his or her management style and personality include:

• How would you describe your management style?
• My goal as an employee with your firm would be to meet and exceed your expectations. What are your expectations during the first 90 days?
• If you could create the perfect employee, describe that person to me.
• As a manager, what frustrates you?
• What do you like about working for this organization?
• What are the key challenges for the team and organization as a whole?
• How would you describe the office culture?

Sometimes coworkers can be more difficult to work with than the boss. If you have the opportunity to interview with potential coworkers, you should consider asking the above mentioned questions in addition to the following:

• How long have you been with the organization and what roles have you held? (Beware if everyone that you talk to has been with the company for a short period of time or seems to be professionally stagnant)

While there are several important factors to include in evaluating your offer, never underestimate the importance of culture. You want to make sure that the organization that you select is a place where you fit in and will offer you the greatest opportunity for career growth and longevity. After all, we sometimes spend more active time with the people at our jobs than we spend with our own families (sleeping time not included). Harmony should be heavily considered!