Wharton prof: When job hunting, organizational culture is key


In an op-ed column for the New York Times, management professor Adam Grant (Wharton School, U. Penn.) urges job seekers to focus on organizational culture as a prime factor in conducting a job search:

When it comes to landing a good job, many people focus on the role. Although finding the right title, position and salary is important, there’s another consideration that matters just as much: culture. The culture of a workplace — an organization’s values, norms and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success.

Grant identifies “three fundamental issues” in assessing a workplace:

First is justice: Is this a fair place? Second is security: Is it safe to work here? Third is control: Can I shape my destiny and have influence in this organization?

It may be more important to eliminate the toxic workplaces first, suggests Grant:

It’s always tempting to look for a great culture, but since bad is often stronger than good and toxic behaviors wreak more havoc than positive behaviors breed joy, it’s probably wiser to first rule out the worst cultures.

Hard times, part 1

The worst of the Great Recession may be behind us, but few people can afford to be supremely confident about job security. Accordingly, how an employer deals with possible layoffs is telling. Grant draws a comparison:

Contrast the former Walmart chief executive Michael Duke, who slashed more than 13,000 jobs while raking in $19.2 million, with Charles Schwab executives taking pay cuts to avoid downsizing — and giving employees who lost their jobs a bonus when they were rehired.

That said, one might have to do a lot of homework, or raise some uncomfortable questions to potential future employer, to get an accurate read on an organization’s priorities when layoffs may be in play. Furthermore, because such decisions are usually more discretionary than policy-based, what happened before may not necessarily be predictive of the future.

Hard times, part 2

Grant does overlook one common, harsh reality: Sometimes people don’t have a choice of potential employers. A job offer presents itself, and other options are few. Grant leads his column with an anecdote related to a student at the prestigious Wharton business school, who is likely to have some degree of choice in terms of job opportunities. By contrast, especially if you’ve been underemployed, unemployed, or otherwise out of the labor force, obtaining full-time employment with decent pay and benefits may prove to be a challenging task.

In such cases, the choice may boil down to taking a position at a place that may not have the healthiest workplace culture versus passing on the offer in hopes of something better coming along. If you’re facing destitution or raiding your savings, it may be better to take the job, dig in, and do your best to succeed, while watching your back and keeping an eye trained on the job listings.

Nonetheless, Grant offers sound advice and thoughtful points on what’s important in seeking a new job. It’s a good, quick read.

3 responses

  1. Excellent point about how options are not always available for job seekers. I would state it more strongly. Our economy only rarely edges close to full employment, so most workers, except for the most highly educated, or those who have a substantial nest egg, will never have the kind of choices that this advice assumes.

    Forgive me but this sort of thing sticks in my craw in this era when most career and work advice seems geared toward the increasingly small number of people (those at the top of the economic ladder) who still have choices about about work and livelihood. The growing reserve army of the unemployed, underemployed, and uncounted who have left the labor force, are not so lucky.

    Thanks for pointing this out.

  2. Absolutely agree with Robert’s comment above. I am currently underemployed and live in an area where decent paying jobs are few and far between. Employers seem to use this fact to keep salaries depressed.
    Patching together 2 low paying part time jobs with no benefits is exhausting. From what I’ve seen, this is the reality of many who have lost decent jobs, especially those over 50. Yes, I have slipped from a comfortable middle class existence.

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