Culture has undeniably emerged as a potential contributor to organizational success. A healthy culture can impact a myriad of outcomes; directing behavior, encouraging cooperation and the ability to innovate. However, when does the content or strength of that culture become overpowering? I’ve had the opportunity to read the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Facebook’s Company Town”, reflecting on the organization’s recent plan to provide even more perks for its employees. The WSJ’s Reed Albergotti writes:
(Facebook) said this week it is working with a local developer to build a $120 million, 394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices. Called Anton Menlo, the 630,000 square-foot rental property will include everything from a sports bar to a doggy day care. (…)
The development conjures up memories of so-called “company towns” at the turn of the 20th century, where American factory workers lived in communities owned by their employer and were provided housing, health care, law enforcement, church and just about every other service necessary.
While most of us are firm supporters of a strong and guiding culture, the article left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. (Please note I do not wish to cast doubt upon work life integration – or call well-meant intentions into question. Housing is an issue in this geographical area.) However, at what point does involvement in employees’ lives become intrusion in employees’ lives?
Some thoughts to consider:
Culture or culprit? A robust culture can indeed support employees and the work at hand. However, when does the intensity of that culture begin to feel stifling? (Although employees are not required to live near the campus, will this eventually become an unwritten more?) While this is ultimately a person-organization fit issue, will employees feel empowered to draw the line when they feel the need for space?
Met expectations. There is concern as to what will happen when an employee seeks employment outside of Facebook (or any other permeating culture). Could developed expectations limit free movement and opportunities for career development? (It would be quite difficult to say goodbye to on-site laundry.) Moreover, will employees be labeled as spoiled or indulged?
Separation anxiety. I have as much concern for organizations as a whole, as for the individual employees. How will management in today’s organizations respond to an employee who refuses to sign on for a 24/7 technologically linked lifestyle? Will developing cultures be capable of digesting independence?
Retaining personal Identity. When a defined culture operates, it can become increasingly difficult to “buck” the system, even if this is required for the organization to remain adaptive. Strong cultures can provide support — but they can also begin to bind or limit “diversity of thought”. Unfortunately, shared norms and practices can unintentionally encourage the opposite of what they were originally designed to accomplish.
Should organizations be wary of developing an overpowering culture? Should we? What do you see as the associated risks?