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Culture skepticism

This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.


It’s easy to be skeptical about culture. It’s kind of a corny concept…culture, values, believing in a cause. And out here in startupland there are plenty of companies who may try to get the benefits of culture without really embracing it.

We have a team of people who are responsible for organizing frequent employee social events, maintaining the office ‘feel’, and making sure work is a great place to hang out. We get served organic, vegan, farm-raised, nutritious lunches every day at work.

What your culture might actually be saying is… Our employees must be treated as spoiled, coddled children that cannot perform their own administrative functions. [Tweet this] Because our office has more amenities than home life, our employees work much longer hours and we are able to extract more value from them for the same paycheck.”
kitten hanging from branch with text "hang in there"-Pretty Little State Machine

There are plenty of other criticisms in that post that might make you blush…either for your own sake, or that of a friend who works at a company with “cool” culture that isn’t really cool. Reading the post, you’re thrown into doubt: is my culture actually terrible? Are we hypocrites? Is “culture” just the same old crappy work environment with a happy kitten picture plastered onto it?

But then you read a comment like this one:

“Forgive me, but a lot of us live in bum-fuck little towns where we slave away with the ‘old white guys’ who don’t know the difference between Reddit and ‘read it’.

We’re lucky to get a mere scolding if we’re caught browsing A List Apart—oh, no … wait, we can’t … it’s BLOCKED because ‘it’s a blog‘. [Tweet this]

The closest thing I get to ‘culture’ is listening to Florence + The Machine with my earbuds, streaming to my phone since Pandora – you guessed it – is BLOCKED. [Tweet this]

So forgive me if I’m jaded and cynical. Work sucks, small towns suck, and being stuck in one sucks even more.”
-Don Schenck

There’s some context for you. Yes, our cultures could be better. Yes, some companies misuse culture. But we’re still creating a much more empowering, fun, and engaging work environment than Don’s workplace. And the companies that are doing it really well seem like the most fun places to work in the world (check out my interview with BoomTown if you haven’t yet.)

Let’s strive to make our culture great and realize when it’s not. But just because yours isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not 210% better than the traditional corporate culture!