Although people have obvious financial needs that are a large part of what makes them seek employment, the money side of work doesn’t go far in making a job feel like something worth doing. It won’t make up for a job that is frustrating, boring, inconsequential or just plain dull.

People want more from their work. They want to be able to meet some at least of their other needs: for good social contact, for a sense of achievement, a feeling they’re doing something worthwhile, the sense of belonging to an organization they can feel proud of — even a sense of self-worth and meaning in life.

It’s a sad fact many people find themselves disappointed in this side of their working lives. Maybe they began a job with high hopes, but now feel let down. Perhaps the work hasn’t lived up to the promises they were made during the recruitment process. Maybe there’s been a change in management and the new style of doing things no longer provides the pleasure they used to get before.

Here are some questions it’s worth pondering to help decide whether those all-important intangibles of corporate culture and working environment will match up to your needs. Whether you’re thinking of a new job, or wondering if what you have is still what you need, it’s worth taking a little time out to run through this simple checklist.

  1. Is the organization a community where people share the task of producing something most of them truly believe in? Or is it a profit-obsessed, hard-driving labor-camp, where rewards are high because there’s really nothing else on offer?
  2. Can you see whether managers and leaders work through trust and respect? Many organizations are command-and-control cultures where there’s little or no trust given or expected. If you don’t trust others, that may not matter. If you do — and you want to be trusted in return — it will drive you crazy.
  3. If people talk about a “team environment,” check what this means. Does it mean people happily work together when they should, and apart when that is more appropriate? Or is it a crime to stand out in any way, and a hanging offense to express dissent or question the view of the ruling majority?
  4. Does work/life balance mean employees are allowed to find suitable ways to balance job and non-job demands? Are there options like home working, flexible hours, agreed absences for family needs? If you exercise these options, will you be marked down as “not committed?” Some organizations have schemes for time off when it’s needed — but heaven help you if you ever make use of them.
  5. How does the company assess performance? Do bosses get to know their staff and work with them to achieve the best they can offer? Or is it the dreaded annual appraisal — that pointless ritual where people are coldly judged and usually found wanting? Worst of all, do they say they’re “results-oriented” and mean that you either “make the numbers” or make your way out of the building as quietly as possible?
  6. How all-pervasive are corporate politics? You won’t find an organization with none — that’s too much to expect — but the impact of politics varies from about what you would expect in any group of people to something that strongly resembles Soviet Russia under Stalin. Academic jobs are typically the most political of all.
  7. What does “commitment” mean? Is it being involved, loyal and giving an honest day’s work in return for your pay? Or does it mean selling your body, mind and soul to the corporation and never questioning any demands it places on you?

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. Nor am I suggesting that you should seek a particular type of company to work for. One that would drive me insane might be exactly what suits you best. Even the most macho and demanding organizations have their admirers who wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. All that matters is that you should go into a job with your eyes and mind open, knowing what to expect and ready to work in that environment as happily as you can.

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Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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