How critical is company culture in job satisfaction?

House with people walking: How company culture is a critical factor in job satisfaction

Clare Hill, Business Psychologist at culture specialists Isaacs Hill, explains how company culture is a critical factor in job satisfaction for most people. 

Culture is often described as the ‘way we do things around here’ and is essentially the formal or informal ‘code’ of expected behavioural norms.

A great place to start with finding a good culture fit for you is learning to understand your own personal drivers and needs as an individual. Some are drawn more towards values-led workplaces, where factors such as a social or ethical mission and purpose underpins the organisation’s activities, such as in non-profit organisations. Others are likely to thrive in a company which is achievement-driven, regardless of what the business actually does, such as in target-driven industries.

“Organisations can idealise what they would like their culture to be, which can be a little different to the reality”

Check your priorities

You can look for the ‘evidence’ of culture in formal people practices such as how the company rewards its employees, and thinking about how fair this feels to you. How does the organisation look after employees, with benefits such as flexible working, or profit sharing, and how important is this to you? How often do they carry out performance reviews and will this be the right amount of feedback for you?

Culture is also in the less formal expectations. Is this a culture where you will be expected to work autonomously, or is it very hierarchical, and how would that feel to you? Do people go straight home after work, or is there an expectation for lots of socialising after hours?

Ask questions

When applying for jobs and reading a company website or recruitment information, bear in mind that organisations can idealise what they would like their culture to be, which can be a little different to the reality.

To determine what the company culture is really like, ask questions about the company’s founders and leaders, and what drives them. Culture ultimately trickles down from the top, and finding out about the personal principles and communication style of senior people will give you a lot of clues as to how everyone else in the company will behave.

It is useful to find out if they have gone through any recent changes, such as new leadership, or a high volume of recruitment, as this could mean that the culture could look very different in the coming months. Take the opportunity to meet as many people in the company as possible during the different recruitment stages in order to get different perspectives. Pay attention to whether people’s descriptions of the culture are consistent, as this is usually a sign of well-embedded culture. If you can find out how long people tend to stay with the organisation this can be an indicator of a healthy culture, or high turnover can mean there are culture issues.

Weigh it up

If you like the sound of the job, but not the company’s culture, it can pay to be pragmatic. Factors such as good development opportunities may be worth the sacrifice of a perfect culture fit for a period of time, but you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve during your time there. Do, however, pay attention to what your immediate team and manager are like. This can mitigate some of the downsides of the wider culture and protect your mental wellbeing.

If you start a job and find that the company culture does not align with your values, try not to panic and react emotionally. It is not the end of the world to make a mistake, but if you decide to leave, you will need to explain your decision to your next potential employer. Think carefully about why the culture is a bad fit for you, so you can clearly articulate your reasons for leaving. It is always wise to part ways with your current employer honestly and with integrity. Most organisations are concerned with ensuring they hire for culture fit, and would rather know if you feel you are not a good fit sooner rather than later.

Clare Hill is a Business Psychologist at culture specialists Isaacs Hill. Go to