When office culture shock overwhelms you

By: WILSON MANYUIRA

By: the time he realised Richard Branson was not extending his hand to greet him, it was too late to save his tie. In one swift movement, the billionaire — who describes himself as ‘a tie loathing adventurer’ on twitter — had snipped the new employee’s tie and returned the pair of scissors in his breast pocket.

Confused and angered by the actions of the man he so admired for his immense success with the Virgin brand, the young man had vowed to quit there and then. But fortunately, someone showed him a video of Sir Branson snipping the tie of Australian financial reporter David Koch and he got the point. Ties are a no-no for Richard Branson and are not tolerated anywhere within his empire.

Of course he didn’t quit but experts are unanimous that the shock he got will definitely affect his self confidence and productivity especially when dealing with Branson directly. It’s known as ‘office culture shock’ and is not only brought by a tie-loathing CEO but an array of factors, circumstances and office customs.

Office culture, says Mr Daniel Makori, a HR lecturer at KU Nakuru campus, can generally be termed as a particular office’s way of doing things, employee relations and the unwritten rules that everyone is supposed to observe.

“In some offices, you will find that it’s a rule for everyone to read emails over the weekend or holiday. A new employee who doesn’t know this will definitely have some explaining to do if a circular is sent on New Year’s Day and he/she doesn’t respond to it.”

In others, he adds, it’s criminal to take tea breaks—drink tea at your desk— while others like Carey Eaton’s One Africa Media, being too serious is seen as creepy. This, points out the HR don, may be a the norm for the employees working at a particular office, but for a new employee coming from a different office culture; it takes some time to fit in.

UNWRITTEN RULES

“Because of the varied nature of our personalities, you will find that customs or way of doing things vary from one office to another and thus moving jobs can be a daunting task,” says Dr Samson Oteyo, a vocational psychologist. He points out that the effects of office culture shock vary in magnitude and from one employee to another.

The tricky thing about office culture, is that customs of many offices are often unwritten and you can only get to learn them when you start working at the particular office.

“If the customs in your new workplace overwhelms you, then you get office culture shock and the consequences can be dire”, Dr Oteyo says and adds: “For a tech guy who has grown used to the nerdy customs of tech hubs and labs, it might be particularly difficult to practise the customs of a marketing office. Likewise, the tech guy will find it taxing in acclimatising to the strict and organised customs of a law firm. A stock broker will find the silence and calms of a library unnerving.”

As such, he adds, the importance of learning and fitting into your new office’s culture cannot be ignored. “It’s not rocket science to know an employee who hasn’t acclimatised with his/her new office culture will not perform well,” points out Dr Chris Wango, a psychology lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

According to him, it’s natural for any human’s productivity to be affected when he/she feels certain environment, practices and norms of other people don’t favour him.

“If you find yourself being reprimanded severally for coming with homemade cakes for tea while the office culture doesn’t allow that, it will affect your morale and happiness and then what happens? There will be no job satisfaction for you in that office,” he explains.

According to Dr Oteyo, when you are not satisfied with at work, your productivity automatically dips. This will in turn affect the overall productivity of the company.

The personnel managers on the other hand, according to Mr Makori, will find themselves between a rock and a hard place trying to get the best out of an employee who used to be stellar performer at his previous job.

“Most people normally look at how productivity affects labour costs. We tend to forget that something as simple as office culture can bring detrimental results to a company’s revenue and an employee’s satisfaction,” says Mr Paul Waithaka, Senior Huuman Resource lecturer at KU’s Nyeri Campus.

According to Mr Waithaka, while it’s essential to focus on the more important things at the office like professionalism, simple things like tea schedule, breaks and dress code are vital too. “When setting a dress-code for the office, don’t just do the cliche and go for the suits. Think about those people who will be uncomfortable in ties or leather shoes and then employ a measure of tolerance and flexibility,” he offers.

Another thing that brings office culture shock, he adds, is lack of culture leadership or poor communication skills.

“As a personnel manager you will definitely not expect the new recruit to know a lot about your office culture and thus there needs to be proper mechanisms to channel that.”

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

Failure to ask culture-related questions during interviews is also another cause of office culture shock according to him.

“Why for instance would a potential employee whose former office(s) customs are in stark contrast with yours be added to your team?”

Consequently, he says, in-house survey should be done from time to time in order to identify the suitability of your office culture and what can be done to improve it. A recent study by Hiroshima university (HU) and published in the journal Atlantic seem to support his assertions. Suitable office culture, flexibility and frequent breaks from work, reported the study, helps to boost an employee’s cognitive energy and in turn productivity.

After working on a computer continuously for 52 minutes, the study found that the employee should take a break of 17 minutes. This break time, noted the productivity scientists from HU, should be used to exercise your legs; stretch and talk to colleagues who will help you better understand the office culture. This reboots your cognitive energy.

The buck doesn’t stop with the personnel managers however as according to Dr Wango, new employees have a lot to do too. “I know most employees research on a prospective employer so why not research on their office culture too?”

Even though there might not be a lot about that from usual sources, Dr Wango believes there are other ways one can get to such information.

“If you can’t get it from newspapers or google, why don’t you go a step further and track the social media trends of your prospective employer’s staff. If they don’t use Facebook a lot, you will learn to caution yourself when you get there.”

Better still, he adds, why not get a friend from there and learn more from them.

“Most people choose to observe a new environment first and then mingle but I would recommend getting a friend or two in the new office who will help you in the nick of time,” concludes Dr Wango.