How to Assess Your Work Environment to Maximize Career HappinessNov 05, 2023
The importance of having the right work environment cannot be undersold. Truly.
In fact, it’s one of the ideas that I explore most when working with professionals in my career and executive coaching practice.
When professionals feel unsatisfied in their positions, it’s easy to assume that the problem lies in the job itself. But more often than not, a work environment that doesn’t match their needs is the true hurdle. My 9+ years of coaching (and my 48 years of being a human on planet Earth) have shown me that it’s WAY more common for people to hate their work environment or their boss than hate their actual work. True story.
Finding a work environment that works for you is one of the most important aspects of developing and maintaining a balanced professional life. And they’re not one-size-fits-all.
The right environment for you goes beyond work-life balance. It allows your career and life to work well together. To achieve this, it’s all about finding the right fit.
In this post, I’m covering how to assess the environment you’re working in, whether that be for a current position or a future job offering.
What is a Work Environment?
When I talk about a work environment, I’m going beyond the physical perspective.
An environment is more than just a workspace; it includes all factors that can impact the way you want to live your life, and how you want to work.
This means investigating your ideal work environment from a broad lens, asking yourself:
- How do I work?
- How do others work around me?
- How does this company work as a whole?
- How do company culture and the associated work environment affect me?
- Which parts of this environment are meeting my needs and which are not?
- Am I a natural fit within this work environment?
Answering these questions can help you decide whether you and a company will be the right match. But some of these questions are harder to answer.
To help guide you, here are 9 different lenses for you to consider about a work environment so you can ensure it is the perfect fit for your individual needs.
9 Lenses to Assess Your Work Environment
These lenses allow you to gain more insight into a current or future work environment, guiding you to pick a fit that will bring greater job satisfaction.
Think about your needs in terms of job flexibility. Then, compare that to what the position offers. Ask yourself questions including:
- What kind of work-life balance can I expect in this job, at this company? Are you able to “leave work at work?”
- How many hours will I be working? What does that mean for my personal life?
- Is the location office-based, hybrid, or completely remote?
- Is this position portable? Can you live anywhere in the country? In the world?
- How much PTO do you get? How do holidays work? And how easy is it to take time off?
Based on your priorities, these questions will help determine your flexibility needs, and whether or not your job can meet them.
Compensation should cover two distinct requirements.
It should meet the financial needs of the professional and their family, while also being fair for the required skills and market value.
For example, if a salary can cover your financial needs, but the fair market value for the same skills is much higher, total compensation would need to increase to bridge this gap and meet the fairness test.
On the flipside, if the salary offered is fair for the industry, but would lead to you running out of money before you run out of month, you might need to consider a different role or industry. (This issue causes a lot of people who are interested in non-profit work to leave and go to the private sector.)
In assessing a position, don’t forget to consider the title that comes with it.
A title should be fair for both your experience and the results that you bring. Personally, I can handle having just about any title, but I need to have parity with others in the company.
I once worked in an organization where I spent around 75% of my time doing work typically done by people one title higher, and about 20% of my time doing work done by people two titles higher. When it became clear that the company wasn’t interested in fixing the title disparity, I decided to get out.
Different professionals and their families require different benefits based on their personal needs.
For example, you may not need extended benefits from work if your spouse has great benefits at their job, or you have military retiree benefits.
Others may really need a full range of benefits - including some very specific ones. For example, someone experiencing infertility problems might be very interested in coverage for IVF, or for adoption costs.
5. Structure & Formality
Structure is a huge part of a work environment and a strong indicator of whether or not it’ll be the right fit for you.
Investigate the structure, processes, and formality of the company and the specific position.
Some people might need a lot of structure and established processes in order to feel confident in their work.
Others hate structure and rage against its confines
Some fear not knowing what to expect, while others are uncomfortable with feeling too pinned down.
While you may assume that these differences in structure and efficiency are simply the differences found between an established company and a start-up, this isn’t always true. You’ll need to dig a little deeper to use this lens.
To put it simply, if you don’t vibe with the people around you, the work environment is going to be tough.
Strive to find a company with your kind of people, those who you want to work and get along with. You definitely don’t need to be best friends with everyone. But at a bare minimum, you need to be able to respect one another, work well together, and have honest, open communication.
For some people, it's also very important to see a strong sense of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the company, especially when looking at the specific team they will work on or the C-suite.
You’ll also need to take into account basic, physical needs in a work environment. If you have specific requirements, are they being met by the company? Are they truly supportive of making accommodations for any needs you may have, or do they act like making work accessible for you is a chore?
Beyond your personal needs, think about the company’s view on accessibility. Do they have a strong focus on accessibility efforts? What is the evidence of these efforts?
This lens will also help you determine if your personal values align with the company culture.
8. Decision Making
For people who are in leadership roles, one of the most critical things to understand is what decision-making looks like in the company. Some people are drawn to consensus decision-making, while others prefer to gather information and make the tough calls themselves.
Think about the way decisions are made within your company, asking:
- How are decisions made?
- What responsibility and authority will I have over decisions in my role?
- Who do I need to consult to finalize decisions?
These questions have very little to do with power and are more about agency. Determine if you’ll be free to make the decisions necessary for your position or if you’re constantly going to need to sell others on your ideas to get anything done.
9. Collaboration Level
Finally, consider the company’s approach to collaboration in a position and whether or not it suits you.
Some people have the idea that collaboration means people work together, in the same room (or on the same Teams call) All.Damned.Day. If that’s not your jam, you want to know that so you can opt-out.
Other people confuse collaboration with consensus and want to do all the work and make all the decisions together.
While that kind of collaboration aligns with some people’s work styles, it can be exhausting for others. I don’t do well if I don’t have time alone to process information, for example.
Oh, and it’s not enough to try and judge collaboration styles by just looking at a job title or industry. Every organization and sometimes even teams have a different perspective on how much together-time versus solo-time is effective.
Ensure that the work environment supports the ways that you work best.
Final Thoughts From a No BS Career Coach on Assessing Your Work Environment
Overall, this process is all about figuring out what work environment is right for you. I hope these ideas help you expand your mind on what a work environment really is, beyond your immediate surroundings.
Use these 9 lenses to think about how your job and the company work together as an ecosystem. With a bit of introspection, this big-picture thinking will help you find a healthy fit.
If you need help figuring out what career change and work environment would work for you, you may be a candidate for one of my career coaching programs. Click here to book an intro call and learn more today.