You’ll miss out on the corporate culture at home, “we are like a family” managers say to entice you to return to the office. This sounds nice and inviting. You want to believe it. But is it true?
Pre-pandemic you spent more time at work than with your spouse, partner, children and friends. You most likely had a work-husband or wife. There were a few coworkers that you considered good friends, but not necessarily equivalent to family members. Now that you’ve been home with your real family for nearly two years, would you consider going back to the office to be with your work-family?
A corporation offers the worst parts of a dysfunctional family. Coworkers one-up each other to gain the attention of their boss. They gossip behind your back and secretly hope you fail so that they feel better about themselves. There’s tension, past grudges that won’t let go, massaging huge egos and putting up with rude behavior.
Corporate culture is a term used to rally people together. What is it really? Corporate culture is a squishy concept. It generally refers to the belief systems of an organization. How management acts towards it’s staff. Certain core ideals and goals. The hiring of specific types of people that think and act similarly.
The stark reality of corporate culture is symbolized by hundreds of workers sitting under bright fluorescent lights, the absence of fresh air as the skyscraper building’s windows are hermetically sealed, and stuck in worn-out beige or grey cubicles with dividers tall enough to obscure your view of other human beings. Meanwhile, the executive suites offer furniture, fixtures and accommodations fit for a queen or king.
It’s when Google and other tech titans offer Kombucha on tap, ping-pong tables, free food and snacks, and cool, fun amenities. Some leaders boast that they “work hard and play hard!” This translates into a hustle-porn type environment that requires long grueling hours. Celebrating birthdays and work anniversaries with a couple of pizza pies doesn’t merit a two hour plus round trip commute to and from the office five days a week.
Forget family and corporate culture. The work environment is like being on a sports team. Management hires a star player. If the person performs well, he’s highly compensated. The moment the bigshot keeps striking out and dropping the ball, it’s all over. Everyone snipes behind his back that he was overrated and overpaid as the guy is shown out the door and discharged.
If another team makes an attractive financial offer, a worker will gladly jump at the chance to leave, without a second thought. There is loyalty and love when things are going well. When things go badly, the family and culture aspect is thrown to the wind and it’s everyone for him or herself.
The reality is that people work for a paycheck. They want stability and growth opportunities. A little empathy, treated with respect and courtesy would be lovely too. Icing on the cake is doing something that offers feelings of fulfilling a purpose and working on matters that have intrinsic meaning to you. Everything else is just window dressings.
There are many examples that highlight corporate culture and the “we are family” mantras are a farce. In the past generations, people took jobs, followed company orders and didn’t make waves. Times have dramatically changed. Employees want their employers to share their social, political and ethical beliefs. It’s not easy to balance both the wants of the employees and the needs of getting work accomplished. Therein lies the dilemma in thinking of a company as family and having faith in the corporate culture. There are too many conflicts. You’re better off working from home, being productive and avoiding all the extraneous drama.
Basecamp, is a small collegial company that offers collaborative project management tools. In a corporate blog post, CEO Jason Fried wrote that there will be “No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account.” He explained that “Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant.” He added “It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens.” In response, a number of employees elected to leave the company in a sign of protest and disagreement with the firm’s new policy. So much for sticking together and working out differences as a family.
Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Silicon Valley-based cryptocurrency exchange and broker Coinbase, told his employees that he won’t stand for politics and the championing of social issues at the office. Armstrong bluntly said that he’d gladly offer severance packages to employees who aren’t comfortable with the new corporate policy of “political neutrality” in the workplace. The chief executive wrote in a letter to employees, “Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about. Hopefully, this package helps create a win-win outcome for those who choose to opt out.” A fair number of people took Armstrong up on his offer. Evidently, the corporate culture is something like “if you’re not happy, please leave!”
Online furniture retailer Wayfair walked off their jobs to protest the company’s decision to sell about $200,000 of bedroom furniture to a government contractor that operates immigration detention centers on the U.S. and Mexico border. When Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah refused to comply with the workers’ demand to cancel the sales, employees protested by staging a walkout. The anger and frustration was captioned by employee Madeline Howard, “We don’t want our company to profit off of children being in concentration camps.” So much for having a nice family discussion.
An opinion piece in The Washington Post written by Cathy Merrill, CEO of The Washingtonian, an online and monthly publication focusing on the D.C. metro area, managed to offend her staff and create a viral whirlwind of anger on Twitter. She wrote “While some employees might like to continue to work from home and pop in only when necessary, that presents executives with a tempting economic option the employees might not like.” She ominously said “If the employee is rarely around,” the office then there is a “strong incentive to change their status to “contractor.” She warned “Instead of receiving a set salary, contractors are paid only for the work they do, either hourly or by appropriate output metrics,” indicating a not-so-subtle threat to their livelihoods. In response to what felt like a threat to their jobs, the staff refused to write content for the day and shared their utter dismay and disdain on Twitter. Once again, it’s clear that the importance of corporate culture and the “we’re one big happy family” schtick doesn’t hold true.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, told his global workforce of 137,000 employees that they’d have to return to the office beginning early September. It’s expected that employees will spend about three days a week at the office and the other two at home or remotely. Not everyone was happy with this decision. In an open letter to Cook, some employees of Apple, voiced their displeasure in being told to return to work saying “we feel like the current policy is not sufficient in addressing many of our needs.” The letter pointed out that workers delivered “the same quality of products and services that Apple is known for, all while working almost completely remotely.” Cook may contend that it is easier to manage people if they’re all herded into one or several central locations. Employees have a different agenda. They want to have a work-life balance. A two-hour, round-trip commute becomes debilitating after a while.
People have realized over the virus outbreak that it’s more important to spend quality time with loved ones, take responsibility for where and when they work and have some autonomy over their lives. This can’t be replaced with a so-called company culture and the pretense of being one big happy family.