When You Don't Fit the Corporate Culture

As part of a clever promotion for the movie "Unfinished Business" with Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco (pictured above), the stars were Photoshopped into some iStockphotos of "realistic business" shots. The result is that those stock photos we see and use on Websites and emails which always appear awkward at best, never looked more out of place. Nor have their new "models".

It reminded me of my own foray into the business world. Fresh from the ivy covered collegiate world into a New York Wall Street firm, I spent whatever money I had saved from graduation gifts on suits and ties from the discount men's store. The weekend before I started I sprained my ankle playing basketball and that first month I greeted my new coworkers with a bushy black beard, pinstripes, and a cane, looking like a hipster version of DeCaprio's Wolf of Wall Street. I stood out like a sore thumb - or sprained ankle as it were. And it didn't get much better until I reconciled with the corporate culture.

My article on Tattoos in the Workplace created quite a stir for those who felt discrimination due to the ink on their skin. But what if there's some intangible aspects that make you feel like you just don't gel with the corporate culture?

Don't be too quick to blame the company or your coworkers. Maybe it's not that you hate your lousy job, you may just regret your lousy choices. Ask yourself: "Am I in the right field?" We choose a major in college, get a job in our chosen field (or not) only to realize reality doesn't match perception. Since the average person changes careers at least once in their life, this can happen at any stage in your career. 

Or maybe we begrudgingly took our job to pay the bills and feel like a sell out. If you work for a family-owned company you're dealing with another business dynamic as well. Not much you can do about getting that promotion if your last name isn't the same as the sign on the front door. (But that's a subject I'll address in an upcoming article.)

So if you're in the right career and nepotism isn't an issue and you still don't fit in with corporate culture, try the following:
  1. Dress the part. It's not just the UPS man who wears a uniform. Yours might be left to interpretation -- but it exists. Wear what the others wear. Even facial hair, hair cuts, shoes, make up, play a part in it. I'm not saying to mimic the boss, but if you want to be one of "the suits," then wear one. (Or for the flip side, when's the last time you saw the software engineers in suits?)
  2. Socialize in and out of work. Go out to lunch with the others or bring it and suggest eating in the break room rather than at your desk. That's when you learn the nuances of fitting in and working around the red tape that every company has.
  3. Realize that your job doesn't define you. Define yourself outside the 9 to 5. When I first graduated, I fought being part of corporate culture feeling that the stuffy business world wasn't me. It wasn't but it wasn't many of my co-workers either. They just knew how the game was played.
It's often what's not written in the company handbook. IBM used to "suggest" executives wore a blue or gray suit. Period. I never felt part of the financial conservative institutions yet at the same time I think the Borg-like atmosphere of some of those progressive tech companies would drive me up a wall. Not fitting in at some companies made me realize I needed to move on. It all comes down to how individualism and conformity is viewed within your company and how important it is for your future growth.  Fitting in -- or not -- is really your choice.


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