Workplace Culture Shock

I once attended a professional learning event at work where the moderator started by saying, “Systems are made of people.” This helped to conceptualize the idea that organizations are a living entity that is subject to so many changes and nuances—just like the people that compose and work for said structures. No two people are alike and thus, organizations have variance. I have come to find this out at my workplace.

I work for a large organization with so many smaller offices in it. It is a conglomerate of systems and people. In an organizational chart, I would not be able to fit my current position. Despite being part of one large system, each sub-office and sub-team has their own culture, their own work ethic, and so many other forms of variance despite coming together for one common cause. My supervisor summarized this by saying how our team is more of a “confederacy.” Each team is subject to differentiation.

Navigating these systems and differences can be challenging for someone new—especially if you did not grow up knowing about work culture or the jargon of the industry that you go into. This is especially true of first-generation immigrants and their children who may not have previous organizational structure as it relates to white-collar jobs. Navigating these intangibles and abstractions can be perplexing. It requires a level of socialization skills that can only be learned through exposure but how do you learn about this when you did not have this privilege?

You could do what I did and throw yourself into the fire. I have made many mistakes but thankfully, I have had the support of wonderful supervisors who did not just sign off on my work but also developed me as an employee, as a person, and worked to establish a working-relationship with me to help me grow. Professional relationships are pivotal for when you are the new person. It lessens the anxiety, social isolation, and the fight-or-flight response that can become standard coping mechanisms for trying to deal with these unknown variables of a new job. Many of these social norms at work places are not codified into protocol—depending on the industry—and that’s what makes it tricky.

To combat these pressures what I have done is develop questions during my interview that help me probe the potential future co-workers and future supervisor about them and the work culture. I have developed some open-ended questions that I write down in my notebook before an interview that will help me to assess what kind of people skills my future workplace has. My standard questions for this include:

  • Who is someone you look up to and why?
  • How do you like to get feedback from coworkers/supervisors?
  • What are three words or phrases that best summarize the culture at your organization?
  • How do you deliver feedback?
  • What structures and practices are in place to develop people on your team?
  • What will the on boarding process look like?
  • Why does your organization value diversity and how do you make diverse coworkers feel valued and included?

If a future, supervisor or workplace cannot answer these questions positively for me then that is a huge red flag that this environment is not for me. As mentioned before, I value working relationships because in order to thrive in a system of people, you need relationships and positive development.

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1 Comment

  1. People older than you do not know or have the networking and community building skills that you mention this not knowing how to navigate corporate spaces. Also, you pose great questions for potential employers/HR!!

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