The Great Resignation––an economic trend where employees resigned from their jobs en masse beginning in 2021—pulled back a heavy curtain that longed veiled the grievances many workers had about their workplaces, but didn’t have the capacity to do anything about them until recently. Namely, corporate culture concerns.
Corporate culture is defined by SHRM as “something that defines the proper way to behave within the organization. Culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding.”
But what if your belief system and subsequent behaviors are misaligned with your office’s?
Joy Fitzgerald, SVP, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at UnitedHealth Group, says this is cultural disconnection and can be detrimental if not handled with care.
In her forthcoming book, Finding Authentic Rhythm: How to Win on Your Terms in Corporate America, she explores the implications of that misalignment and how she journeyed to get through it.
“There was a season when I felt emotionally and culturally disconnected at work and in the city where I lived,” said Fitzgerald. “I felt the beat of my life was off, out of sync, and off pace. I lacked a genuine connection with my coworkers. There were many days I felt out of place. I desired authentic relationships at work and desperately wanted to feel like I belonged. When people feel culturally disconnected, it impacts every aspect of their life. It changes the beat and rhythm of your life. It is important to understand why you are in this state so you can move to the next phase of self-discovery.”
Fitzgerald sat down with ESSENCE to share four clear signs of cultural disconnection and offered some key tips for tapping back into your workplace and yourself.
Sign 1. Feeling Different
“Social isolation in the workplace can erode one’s ability to feel like one belongs. As human beings, we look for connections to feel valued and respected,” Fitzgerald told ESSENCE. “Many enter workplace environments seeking relationships to enhance their ability to get work done. On any given day, most experience more time with colleagues than they do with friends and family. So, it is critically important to feel connected to those with whom you work. The more you see commonality with others in the workplace, the greater you feel part of the team or organization. Quite the opposite, when you feel different and lack connections, it is harder to feel welcomed and valued.”
She continued: “Individuals who come to work every day and feel as if they don’t belong expend a great deal of energy trying to be accepted, questioning why they aren’t fitting in and what they can do to change. I felt uniquely different walking in the hallways every day at work. I was from the South but lived in the Midwest, and my coworkers felt very comfortable pointing out my differences.”
“I have a Southern accent, and people would often ask where I was from. That season of my life was the first time I recognized that many people place undue value on accents. They judge your level of intellect based on how you speak versus your ability to communicate effectively.”
Teaching point: It is not okay to highlight the differences of others in a way in which you make them feel as if their difference is wrong or less than theirs.
Sign 2. Feeling Left Out
Fitzgerald says that workplace exclusion is a business issue.
“It impacts every part of the organization from the personal experience of the individual to performance, outcomes, and financial metrics. When people feel included, you get the best out of them.”
She’s right. A recent Gallup poll found that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability, underscoring that employee engagement is measured by concerted action, not intangible thoughts or emotions.
Fitzgerald shared that she felt culturally disconnected and left out for a significant period in her career and recalled an experience where a co-worker didn’t invite her to an inter-office social outing after work. After walking from office to office extending an invite to everyone, by the time she arrived to Fitzgerald, there was a different approach.
“When she got to my door, she kept going and went to the next door and invited everybody else,” Fitzgerald said. “She literally looked at me and kept walking. I was stunned, hurt, and angry. I couldn’t understand why I was not invited and left out. In my first ninety days of joining the company, I had been told that the Midwest was its own culture. And that the Midwest culture was one in which people would be friendly but not inclusive. They had long, deep relationships that could be traced back to childhood. Their networks were hard to enter and even harder for those who were different.”
Once this issue proves to be too pervasive, it may be to time to consider moving into a new job.
Sign 3. Feeling Judged
Feeling judged is a universal occurrence, but if that feeling happens more often than not while at work, it may be time to ask yourself some important question.
“I felt judged on several things, but mostly I felt judged at the intersection of gender and race,” Fitzgerald said, recalling her feelings in an old role. “For example, on Fridays, if they had fried food, someone would come to my door and say, “Hey, they have fried chicken. I know you like fried chicken.” And let me be clear. I love fried chicken, but I didn’t need them to tell me I love fried chicken. They never came by to share other food options. Or being called a gal or asked to go and get coffee for the men. Women are rarely invited to play golf or attend after-work events with the men. This impacts our career opportunities because we lack access to deep relationships that occur in private settings.”
Sign 4. Feeling Like You Need to Change to be Accepted
Feeling like you don’t fit in is not specific to angsty teens in high school. Unbelongingness applies to adults as well.
“Finding your authentic rhythm and voice takes a lot of energy and courage, especially for women,” said Fitzgerald. “Women take great pains to develop their voices, and my journey was no exception. I spent countless hours trying to come up with the right tone, the perfect facial expressions (smile), and the ideal posture, and it all became too much.”
Fitzgerald’s three key strategies to identifying an authentic rhythm:
1. Being yourself is the most effective strategy: Charge yourself to give the world your authentic voice because not only is it your best voice, the world is waiting to hear what you have to say if you dare to come out and be discovered.
2. Stop with the sorries: Refrain from over-apologizing for being a woman, being different, being direct, and sharing your voice. The world does not want your modesty. They need your courage to SPEAK!
3. Blend In, Not Fit In. Your voice changes when you try to fit in, and you lose your message. The goal is to stay authentic by blending in, not fitting in! So many of us assimilate into organizations and cultures. Instead, we should integrate. Assimilation requires us to change. For some of us, the weight of this is too heavy to bear. When we blend in, organizations benefit from our authentic skills, knowledge, and experiences.