The hidden corporate culture indicator

Greta Faccio
Feb 5 · 3 min read

How to identify a good working place

When hunting for a job, on the day you are invited to visit a new company that looks great on paper, it is crucial to sense the pulse of the company culture. Company culture is a dynamic phenomenon changing over time and strongly shaped by example.

According to Investopedia “Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.” Everybody will tell you it is great, the bosses are supportive, the colleague are not competitive. Even the cafeteria looks amazing… how can you know if that’s true?

If seeing somebody crying in the bathroom and a high dose of cynicism ring a bell for everybody, signs of a good environment can go unnoticed.

the fridge is smiling even at work
the fridge is smiling even at work
The communal fridge can put a smile on your faceven at work.

A careful observation of the organisation of the common fridge can reveal important hints about the social interaction and the company culture. During interviews, people are often offered to visit the company cafeteria as a place of rest and an add on suggesting good social interactions between the colleagues. A common question is how often employed can access this space and of this is limited to the official coffee breaks. There is something else you should pay attention to.

We are social people, we like smiling to to each other, we enjoy the company of our colleagues.However when it comes to food, we revert to our animal behaviour and we become often defensive and ready to bite. Workplaces gather people in a limited space and where to perform takes, navigate, interact, and share meals together. No surprise that tension can build up.

One of the points of higher interaction is certainly the cafeteria, where employees can enjoy their coffees and meals. The cafeteria is also usually hosting the communal fridge, the cold corner where snacks and ready meals are stored. As often happens, it is especially what is missing to tell about a population of employees possibly not trusting the system, or wishing to keep the food closer to them.

people of different ethnicity join together
people of different ethnicity join together
The food stored in the company fridge reflects the employee population in its ethnicity, traditions, lifestyle.

I suggest to give a close look at the communal fridge.

Company culture and the working atmosphere can be revealed by small detail: Food labelling.

Although intended for an easier organisation of the food and respect for each others houses, labelling can reveal a culture of mistrust.

I still have nightmares of communal fridges bursting of labelled food boxes, with dates and full names. Not satisfied, rigid rules to observe were also stuck to the outside on the door to pace the compulsive alcohol-based cleaning that is distributed alphabetically in the group.

Rules never solve problems, they just limit the actions of people.

You open the fridge door and you hear of a virtual shouting by all the labels saying ‘DON’T TOUCH ME!’ and ‘THIS IS NOT YOUR FOOD!’, as if robbers of lunchboxes hide among the colleagues.

When visiting the company you like and whose work you admire, you can confirm the gut feeling you have by taking a look into their fridge.

From my experience, a positive culture can be detected in a well organised fridge where the lunchboxes need no labelling, a sign of respect among colleagues. When you also see a bowl of free delicacies that is not predated regularly, you know your colleagues are civil people.

Big boxes full of food can also indicate that employees share lunch and prepare it in turn. How the respect and the positive culture has been installed is not easy to say, however the communal fridge can be a good litmus test.

ethnic food and sharing food
ethnic food and sharing food

Take a look into the fridge and you will see how your lunches will be. No labels and no stickers with names? You can be sure you will find your lunch and a very good company... even outside the lunch time!

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