Finding Your Ideal Work Environment (Part 1)

According to a recent LinkedIn study, a person will switch jobs at least four times in their twenties.

One of the most exciting, but least talked about aspects of being a new hire is adjusting to a different work culture. There are a few nonnegotiable traits that are essential to any positive work environment such as respect between employees, fair compensation and a suitable work space. At the same time, there are some personal preferences that can make or break an office experience.

Dissatisfaction with work culture is among the most common reasons new hires leave jobs prematurely, but the reason for this dissatisfaction varies from person to person. Whether you’re on your third job change or you just joined the workforce, you may not know what your ideal work culture is just yet. But you should try to find your cultural fit sooner rather than later, because discontent with your work environment can decrease your productivity and quality of work, and lead to an unsatisfactory office experience.

Here are a few aspects of work culture to consider as you discover your preferred work environment.

Formal versus casual office culture

If you appreciate structure, procedures and nice pant suits, you may fare well in a more formal work environment like the State Department or Defense Department. However, if you like the idea of impromptu meetings, casual wear and increased flexibility in terms of where, when, and how you work, an informal office, like 18F at GSA, may be a better cultural fit.

The more formal companies thrive off of consistency and predictability throughout the work day while casual offices may allow for more experimentation and variability day-to-day. Most offices fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but it’s important to consider whether you’d prefer a more conservative government environment, or a work culture with a startup feel.

Social and minimally-social environments

While a lot of recent graduates prefer an office that is socially stimulating, others seek a quieter environment with fewer social expectations. In social work environments, it’s custom to spend time with coworkers outside of the office, i.e. happy hours. While this may seem counter-productive to getting work done, social offices usually provide more opportunities for networking. Similarly, talking and collaboration is encouraged within the office itself. A social work culture can be a lot of fun, but discipline is key in this environment. Make sure you have some quiet time and a private space to create quality work.

Introverts and extroverts alike often feel most productive in a closed office where daily interaction with coworkers is not expected or necessary. This environment is especially ideal for those who are easily distracted by conversations around the office, but it might be significantly more conservative than a company with an open office.

Management structure

In a hierarchal management structure, employees are assigned specific responsibilities and duties based on job title and seniority, while a “flat” management structure includes more shared responsibilities across positions.

In a hierarchal structure, positions are designed to fit a chain of command where authority and information flow from the most superior position to the most subordinate. For people who are comfortable in their current field and are looking to advance, a hierarchal structure may be suitable as there are obvious systems in place for promotion from one position to the next.

Conversely, offices with a flat management structure may not have as many opportunities for advancement, but there’s a larger possibility that you will participate in projects outside your position and department.

Work-life balance

In a survey conducted by Bamboo HR, work-life balance was number 2 on the list of top five workplace deal breakers. While most of the millennials surveyed by Ernst & Young in another study stated they would prefer a better work-life balance than they have at their current job, there are still plenty who continue to work upwards of 50 hours a week. If you have a few hobbies outside of work, sticking to a 9-5 schedule may be most suitable. If you don’t mind working hard and often, you may be able to take on a position that is more demanding of your time.

These distinctions may seem trivial, but incompatibility with your office culture can cause your performance to suffer and negatively impact your mental health. In next week’s post, we’ll discuss how to find out if the company you’re interviewing with has a work culture that you’re compatible with.

To read more about millennials, check out our First 5 series.

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Great post, Danielle! One of the things I love most about my office is the flexibility to be social or hunker down to get work done. Office culture is huge for me, and all the points you mentioned are worth considering.

Kaitlin Moller

Really awesome read! It’s interesting how all of these variables are different for everybody. I know a lot of people who would be happy working 12 hours a day, and others who have a strong urgency for a stable work-life balance. As for me, the most important aspect is a comfortable, social environment.

Marçal Prats

In my twenty years of experience, I have been able to work in almost every work environment you describe in this excellent post. My conclusions are that my professional expectations have changed according to my age; when I started working I preferred a flat structure and a more intense social life. In time I appreciate more having my own space where I can focus better.

Steph Drahozal

Great post! I’m sure this will be very useful to people who are currently looking for a new job – they need to keep these things in mind to find a good fit!