Cash vs Culture: What Wins?

It’s a common assumption that a higher paying job is a better job—and will result in greater career and personal happiness. But is it that simple? Finding the right fit with your company’s culture matters in terms of day-to-day happiness, long-term career success, and lifelong earnings. Identify where you thrive. Is it a fast-paced, work is all start up? A 24-hour, three-shift organization? Or an organization that touts work life balance? To have a job that is a great cultural fit, consider how non-monetary factors affect overall career satisfaction and success.

Being offered a job that pays more is one of the main reasons people leave companies, but if you enjoy the people, the environment, and the work you do, leaving isn’t the only option to earn more money. Look inside your company first. Are you compensated correctly for your contributions in your current position? If you have taken on more responsibilities or expanded the scope of your work, an internal compensation increase within an organization you know could be your ideal path. Review the last year of tasks and special projects to document any growth in your role and the impact it has had on the organization and prepare this documentation for a conversation to negotiate a pay raise.

Internal promotions aren’t always an option and everyone’s financial situation is different, so if money is a strong driving factor, job seekers should pay close attention to clues that companies give about their culture. The importance of work/life balance in this situation can’t be overstated. Before making a move for a pay increase, consider the factors that play into the culture/compensation balance at any company. Are there are a lot of after-hour emails or weekend expectations? Do employees have personal lives or does work always come first? Is it the kind of organization that asks you to cut vacations short in an emergency? Or does it strive to create balance for employees? More than ever, employees and companies alike are understanding the importance of culture for employee engagement, performance, and success, so making more money in an organization that makes you unhappy may not be as great an opportunity as it appears. Evaluate where you are in your career and what you really want. Everything comes at a price—if companies expect you to work around the clock, they will likely compensate you accordingly

If a move is definitely on the horizon, job seekers should research a potential employer’s culture. The best way to get information is to talk to former or current employees. This means networking becomes the most important part of the job search. Placement professionals can provide information on the company environment and what kind of people thrive there, but that information can be colored by the fact that they’re being paid by the company. Resources like Glassdoor are also a great way to find out what really drives the culture; one of the most revealing functions of Glassdoor is to see how—or if—a company responds to negative reviews. Companies that offer to talk to dissatisfied employees demonstrate an interest in why talent is leaving and what can be done to cultivate a positive work environment.

Interviews are also a useful time to gain information on company culture. Candidates can mention what they’ve already heard about the organization and then focus on responses they hear: “Things I’ve read about the organization display the culture as being very XYZ; how would you describe it?” Talking to the team manager, HR, and any potential coworkers can help paint a broader picture of the company’s values and how they affect culture. Is the company mission driven? Financially driven? Whatever it may be, consistency is key. The most telling information will be the information that’s consistently repeated in internal responses, on Glassdoor, or from networking contacts.

Individuals create culture, of course, which means specific managers or coworkers will affect the culture of a team and a job seeker’s fit. The finance group might have a very different mini-culture than the marketing group based on the leader and her background—people often carry cultures with them, so a manager’s career background could provide more clues about culture.

If having it all means working at a company with great cultural fit while being compensated fairly, it is definitely possible. It may mean asking for a raise at your next performance review or leaving to join an organization with an equally great culture. It’s crucial that any professional considering a change knows how their cultural needs align with their desired pay range and take next steps from there.


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