Work culture in this city is interesting. On one hand, you have corporate entities like Salesforce and bureaucracy; on the other, you have devs rolling in at 3 p.m. in their joggers. And you have all of the in-between. But what really constitutes work culture? Does it really come from the top? The short answer is yes.
The way a CEO operates is the driving force of any organization. Forget about the crazy titans like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. They are maintained as geniuses who treated their employees a little bit less than favorable. How employees are treated is a big indicator of work culture.
Take Uber, for example. One of their pillars is to feel comfortable confronting others. Uber also has that cutthroat mentality that doesn’t really make people love their job, but rather dread the idea of walking into work, no matter what the valuation of the company is. That kind of culture doesn’t promote team building. It promotes nothing positive.
Some cultures mean well, yet are not always helpful to personal development. At Facebook, everything is taken care of, so you literally don’t have to do anything in your life except work. No need to cook, do laundry, pay for a gym or a social life. It is all there at their fingertips. After working there, I would not be surprised if an employee wouldn’t be able to boil an egg.
With the amenities suited for the best of the best, it takes more than free stuff to create good culture. In addition to leadership, respect matters. The biggest area of respect is with time. If I have a full day, I try to get as much done as I can to leave at a decent hour. Having to stay late at work and work on weekends doesn’t make people happy. If you aren’t a founder, you shouldn’t have to give up having a life for a job.
What about professional development? I don’t remember the last time I heard that a friend was given the opportunity to pursue further education or skills workshops. I don’t plan on staying in the same place my entire career. Mentorship is equally important when fostering culture based on personal growth and learning.
There are also other types of culture issues that can cause major issues. Imagine people dating at work, promoting nepotism and exclusion. Or possibly no line drawn between personal and professional. Many early stage startups don’t even have HR. This can put people in very uncomfortable situations that they cannot change. I for one cannot control other people, just how I handle myself.
Dealing with bad work culture doesn’t even mean you have the opportunity to vent about it. There are also repercussions for complaining. If you talk to the wrong person, you can potentially cause people to think you are drama, and could even cause you to lose your job. While all of these things have exceptions to the rule, I am just an observer. I write what I see, and what I have experienced.
What does a good work culture look like? Working with nice people is a start. But truly good culture is based on how people treat each other, and the values that are promoted within the organization. Building a culture around open feedback, generosity, hard work and recognition is a good place to start. As I said before, all of this comes from the top and trickles down. It is the nature of how people act within an organization.
There are various startups that do have policies that enable people to enjoy their jobs and do good work. Elements like paid time off, remote work capabilities and flexible hours are great ways to make employees feel valued. If you are committed, work is like a family, and it is important to take care of your family. It feels great when people remember your birthday or congratulate you for a job well done.
When you have a bad culture, you know it. But hopefully when you have a good culture, you put it into perspective and are grateful. Work weeks are still 40-plua hours. These hours deserve to be well spent in the right place.
With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.