The Culture Club: How to create one that supports you

Be honest. How often do you ask yourself: is this really worth it? How often does work feel so frustrating and parenthood so tiring you feel pushed past the limits of what’s humanly possible? If money weren't an issue, would you quit your job? 

Last week, the Journal of Gender, Work and Organization published a study entitled, “Giving up: How Gendered Organizational Cultures Push Mothers Out.” The researchers speculate that unless moms can pretend that they have no commitments outside of work (as dads often can), by working long hours, they are going to leave the workforce (or at least want to). 

Researcher Alyssa Westring offers a more nuanced conclusion in the Harvard Business Review. In a study of 133 women working between 59 and 80 hours per week, “those who felt their workplace culture was supportive appeared less vulnerable to some of the most dangerous negative effects of overwork.” The level of support you get from your colleagues makes a real difference.  In other words, people who feel supported can work more hours without feeling as conflicted.  

I couldn't agree more. As one client with an eight-month old said to me recently, “I still love my job, but obviously I love my baby more. My attention is naturally divided now, but I'm still more skilled than most of the people they would get to replace me. Still, sometimes [my company’s] policies seem so rigid; it's hard not to want to just quit. If they could only give me the support and some flexibility to do both of my jobs, I would continue to outperform my colleagues. It wouldn't take much, but I have no idea how to get what I need.”

How do you ask for and get support? I'm not going to pretend it's easy but I promise you have more leverage than you think you do. Here are four quick tips to help you advocate for a more supportive work environment: 

•    Be Prepared: By the time we are ready to speak up for ourselves, we are often at our wits’ end. Out of exasperation, we’ll just blurt what feels urgent. Better to prepare to thoughtfully for a conversation about how and when work will get done, and what results to expect. 
•    Make It About Them: In a 24/7 work culture, everyone (including managers) is thinking of their own needs first. Make sure you understand what keeps them up at night, the needs of the business, and what they prioritize in terms of results. When you approach a conversation about flexibility, make sure that you acknowledge their concerns, before talking about what you need. 
 Ask, Don’t Assume: When we see emails from managers at 2 a.m. or see people eating dinner at their desks, we often assume that’s the gold standard of performance. Before you assume what is expected of you, clarify with your manager. Differentiate your results from your working hours and make it clear when you will and won’t be accessible.

•    Revisit Regularly: Make sure your manager knows that you are as flexible as you’d like them to be.  Check in regularly to make sure your current performance and arrangement is working for them and for you.