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Culture Matters: Choose Wisely!

Whether you are just launching your career, you are leveraging the great resignation as an opportunity to change jobs, or a recession is impacting your position due to a downturn in the business cycle, you need to be aware of organizational culture's role in your work experience.  

In his June 2022 WorkLife Podcast, "The 4 Deadly Sins of Work Culture (43:55)," Wharton Professor, author, and thought Leader Adam Grant shares what to look out for in a work culture: 

  1. Toxicity 

  1. Mediocracy 

  1. Bureaucracy 

  1. Anarchy 

According to evidence, toxic culture is the biggest driver of turnover, more than burnout or low pay.   


Symptoms of workplace toxicity: 

  • Prioritizing results without relationships 

  • Getting results at the cost of treating people right 

  • The company tolerates: disrespect, abuse, exclusion, unethical decisions, and selfish, cutthroat actions 

If you find yourself in a culture that exhibits these symptoms or ignores or promotes these behaviors, it may be an excellent opportunity to reflect and evaluate whether this is a culture you want to be part of or if it might be time to look for something different. 


Symptoms of workplace mediocracy: 

  • Valuing relationships over results 

  • No accountability 

  • Worrying more about getting along than doing good work 

  • Poor performers still advance and get promoted 

A culture of mediocracy may feel suitable for a while because relationships matter. Still, mediocracy holds the organization back from being its best, and if you are a top performer, staying in this type of culture can be frustrating. What ends up happening is top performers move on, and what's left is continued mediocracy. 


Symptoms of workplace bureaucracy: 

  • Rules and processes drive everything 

  • It is not safe or acceptable to take risks 

  • New ideas are seen as a threat 

  • Maintain the status quo 

  • Resistance to creativity, change 

  • Asking questions is looked down upon 

A certain amount of organizational bureaucracy can be expected because systems, processes, and rules are necessary to operate a business. However, suppose you find yourself working in a place without creativity, change, growth, or an ability to question decisions. In that case, this bureaucracy may impact individuals from doing their best work. 


Symptoms of workplace anarchy: 

  • All risk, no rules 

  • People do whatever they want 

  • Absence of strategy and structure 

  • Lack of learning from the past 

Chaos and anarchy in the workplace create a lack of direction and learning, leaving employees feeling lost and confused. If this type of work environment persists, individuals may no longer be able to tolerate the lack of strategy or structure and seek a more well-defined workplace. 

What to do? 

  1. Take time to reflect: If you are currently working, take time to reflect and evaluate your organization to determine what impact the culture is having on you. Is it something you want to endure, is something you can change, or is it time for you to move on to something different? 

  1. Get clear on the culture you want to contribute to: While most job seekers evaluate a job description and analyze the role, they don’t always think about the work culture. Take time to build a picture of the culture you want to join, contribute to, and make an impact. 

  1. Before accepting an offer, evaluate the company’s culture: Both Adam Grant and Cal Berkeley organizational behavior professor Jenny Chatman suggest waiting until you have a job offer in hand and then act as a culture detective, asking questions such as: 

  • What do people here care about? 

  • What do you find people talking about? 

  • How do decisions get made, and how much dialogue or agreement is there before a decision is made? 

  • What are the non-negotiables for people's behavior at the company, and what happens if someone violates these norms or behaviors? 

  • How are people rewarded for contributing, improving, or positively impacting the culture? 

  • Tell me about something that happens here that wouldn't be elsewhere? 

By being aware of the four deadly sins of culture, taking time to get clear on the type of culture you want to be part of, and then evaluating a company's culture, you'll be in a much better position to take the next step in your career journey! 



  • What are your key takeaways from this post? 

  • What would you like to apply going forward? 

  • If you listened to the podcast, what additional insights did you draw from the episode? 

About the Author

For many learners, their business education journey begins with Introduction to Business. Tim has had the pleasure of educating numerous unique students in this course. His innovative teaching methods, applications of learning science, and educational technology have taken this foundational course to the next level. He arms students with the skills needed to perform like pros in the world of work, excel in future college courses, build wealth, and become savvy consumers. Tim has been teaching marketing, management, and entrepreneurship courses at Green River College in Auburn, Washington, since 2010. He was tenured in 2015 and is best known for co-creating and then leading the country's first Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. Tim also developed an Applied Management BAS program. Affordable has recognized the Marketing & Entrepreneurship program as the #1 most affordable entrepreneurship program in the country and the #7 most affordable entrepreneurship program by UniversityHQ. Tim is a recipient of Green River College's Distinguished Faculty Award. In addition to teaching and authoring, Tim works in the technology industry as a Senior Manager at Microsoft, which provides him the ability to bridge the divide between today's higher education curriculum and the rapidly changing needs of today's employers. While Tim serves in many roles, his most important role is as husband to his wife, Danielle, and dad to his sons, Raymond and Joey.

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