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Office culture is a hot topic, and many companies have taken cues from research that shows treating employees well and ensuring they’re happy leads to them producing better work. But what many people might think (including me as I started my post-grad job search) is that workplace culture is defined by how quiet or how chatty your office is, if you have summer Fridays and happy hours, and if the in-office perks offered are cool.

In my first few months at Stern Strategy Group, a NJ PR firm, however, I’ve learned that office culture goes far beyond how well I get along with my coworkers, or the fact that we get pizza every month and have ice cream parties. Here are three things my time at Stern has taught me about office culture that can make all the difference when it comes to feeling fulfilled (and productive) in your job.

1. Feedback and Communication Style

Going beyond simply how well everyone gets along is how well everyone works together. You may find it difficult to succeed if your colleagues don’t align with your feedback and communication style. Do your coworkers provide you with detailed, constructive real-time feedback on your work? How often do teammates check in with each other to stay up to date on progress? Does your boss expect a perfect draft on the first try every time, or does she anticipate time for editing and rewriting – then coach you through it? If you can’t seem to please anyone, are micromanaged, or rarely have clear instruction on your projects, you may not be in the right work environment for you. This is also a good area to explore when you’re searching for new jobs by asking questions such as “How do you as a manager support and motivate your team?” and “When and how do people like to give and receive feedback?”

2. Idea Contribution

Almost every office has a hierarchy with supervisors and directors above them. The difference is whether you’re treated as inferior, or as someone with just as much value as others. If people are influenced by a positive office culture, they’ll ask you for your opinion in the team meeting, brainstorm session, or even the email chain determining how to provide feedback to a client. Your company should know that everyone has a valuable opinion and something to learn, so your ideas should be welcomed and addressed with explanations when one idea doesn’t quite work. If you feel you’re being silenced and not encouraged to offer ideas (even if they’re rejected half the time: eventually you’ll catch on and start having really good ones!) you’re probably not benefitting from a positive culture. There’s also something to be said about striking a good balance between too many meetings and too much collaboration. You shouldn’t be stuck in meetings that don’t provide much value and left with little time to do your work, or don’t have the opportunity to make your own contributions because everyone is always working on everything together. Collaboration is important, but over-collaboration is a danger.

3. Growth Complex

A good professional knows there’s never a time to stop pursuing learning opportunities. Being constantly curious – or having a “growth complex” – is something your company should encourage. This also plays into an organization’s core values. Does it have a strong set of values that are embedded in processes and approaches, and part of ongoing conversations? Solid core values should have strong actionable language and be prevalent every day, impacting employees’ decisions. Your company should embrace a culture of learning and praise its employees for seeking out knowledge and asking for feedback and criticism. This applies to everyone from the entry-level new hire to the VP who’s been in the industry for 35 years.

You can do the same work at many different jobs, but if you can’t seem to connect with your bosses, rarely feel you’re on the same page with your coworkers and don’t receive feedback when you need it, you may quickly find yourself unhappy (and unproductive) in your job – even if you enjoy what you do.

About Gabby Apuzzo

Gabby Apuzzo joined Stern Strategy Group after graduating from Seton Hall University in 2019.