Good Versus Great Workplaces – How Do You Know the Difference?

Note: This guest post was written by Jessica Lee, senior employment manager for a communications company in DC (full bio at the bottom). Jessica’s got some food for thought about workplace environments, something especially important in times like these where employee stress is at an all-time high and companies are less concerned with morale and more concerned with keeping the ship from sinking.

Might we also add that it might be wise for other media companies interested in building their employment brand to consider something like this on their own Careers pages or blogs? When you’re talking about building a brand, you can’t do much better than this. Now, without further ado…

I’ve interviewed thousands of people for positions ranging from CFO’s to janitors to web developers to media relations managers. Regardless of the position I am recruiting for, regardless of the company, I always want to get a sense of what is important to candidates as far as culture and environment goes. Your skills are important… but that’s not enough. Are you going to be a good fit for us?
At the core, a job is a job is a job… but a workplace isn’t a workplace isn’t a workplace. But how do you get at the culture of an organization though – and how do you find out what the difference between a good versus a great workplace is?
First, “great” doesn’t look the same across the board. To get you thinking a bit about what a great place might look like, and what defines their culture – here’s my list:

  • Work hard and play hard. This is something I’ve personally grown to find more and more important. I’m more motivated when the people around me are hard working… because you never feel like the person to your left or right aren’t pulling their weight. Yet we can’t be work, work, work all of the time. I want to be surrounded by people who know when it’s time to take a break and let loose.
  • Longevity and tenure. Ask how long people have been around and how long staff typically stay. Be nervous when the average tenure is a year, two years. On the contrary, I’m amazed when I look at some of my colleagues and see that they’ve put in 20+ years with our firm.
  • People have grown their careers. Don’t we all want to be that character in that story that goes something like… I started as an intern and look at me now! I’m a senior vice president! Look for and ask about what growth opportunities exist… not that you want to be CEO tomorrow but the opportunities have to be there.
  • Not everyone looks the same. And I mean this in a few different ways. Diversity is important in the traditional sense, but it’s also important from an industry/career perspective. APCO hires individuals who often come from all kinds of different environments. It’s not just agency clones… we have former media, government, NGO types. We have former elected officials. And yes, we have some staff who grew up in agencies. When all this comes together, you have a diversity of thoughts and opinions. I don’t want to be somewhere where group-think abounds.
  • People are happy, and people are nice. I’ve heard this from candidates quite a bit… the people they meet with at APCO seem too nice. It’s like the Stepford Wives, I’ve even heard. And as eerie as that sounds, it’s important. Actually, this is huge for me. It’s tough managing around egos or pretention. Nice people are nice to work with because you never have to question intention or sincerity.
  • Honesty about the struggles and challenges. No organization is perfect. Dysfunctions exist everywhere (just like in families!). But don’t you want to work for an organization where they are looking for you to help them with their struggles or challenges? Look for solution-oriented people who will let you have at those challenges and make a difference.

Maybe when starting your career, culture and environment isn’t a huge consideration. You’re in it to gain experience and build your resume. But haven’t we all quickly learned? Who you work with, the environment, the culture – it matters. It can make all the difference between dreading going to work in the morning and being excited to wake up and go to work.
So when you and I meet to talk about career opportunities with APCO? I’m going to pick your brain to see if you’re going to be a fit for our culture and environment, and I’m going to dig to make sure that this isn’t just a job to you – and that’s definitely a big part of the difference between a good versus a great workplace.

Jessica Lee is a senior employment manager with APCO Worldwide, a global communications consultancy based in Washington DC. She manages recruitment efforts for their North America offices and is always interested in speaking with media pros. Jessica is also the editor of the talent management blog, Fistful of Talent. Connect with her online via Twitter @jessica_lee.