How to Find a Supportive Work Environment, with Ana Goehner

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Your work environment affects more than the hours you spend at work; it affects your personal life, as well. That’s why it’s so important to find a place of employment where you feel seen, heard, and appreciated. How can you be sure the company you’re interviewing with provides that type of workplace? Find Your Dream Job guest Ana Goehner says you begin by speaking with current and former employees. Ana also suggests defining terms such as flexibility and exploring how the employer recognizes achievement. Do as much research as possible, and ask specific questions of the hiring manager that relate to what matters most to you.

About Our Guest:

Ana Goehner is a career strategist and a certified human resources specialist.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 431:

How to Find a Supportive Work Environment, with Ana Goehner

Airdate: January 3, 2024

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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Salary and job title matter when you look for your next position.

But so does the workplace.

A good one helps you thrive.

A bad one makes you dread Mondays.

Ana Goehner is here to talk about how to find a supportive work environment.

She’s a career strategist and a certified human resources specialist.

Ana’s company helps you with job search, career development, and workplace well-being.

She joins us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Well, let’s jump into it, Ana. What do you mean when you talk about a supportive work environment?

Ana Goehner:

Sure, so a supportive work environment is one where employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to do their best work. When we’re talking about a supportive work environment, we’re talking about things like open communication and approachable leadership. You’re not afraid to go and talk to your manager. There are opportunities for growth, there’s work-life balance, and it’s not just words on the wall. They actually live by those values.

There’s also a culture of collaboration. The people you work with, they have your back. And we’re also talking about recognition for your efforts, and it’s also like an environment where you can share your ideas and voice your concerns without fear of retaliation. So the company cares about you, cares about your well-being, both your physical and mental.

And one thing too, that a lot of people, sometimes they want to get out of the work environment, but sometimes they don’t even think about it. It’s that sense of belonging. They feel like they’re not just a number inside that organization. They care about the people they work with. Their manager seems to care about them, and they feel good when they walk into an office, or they turn on the camera for a meeting. They don’t feel like they’re just a number. They feel seen and heard by the workplace.

And the one thing, Mac, that I want to help people understand about the work environment is that when we say work environment, we think about that physical space. We think about that office, or maybe if we work from home, you think about your environment at home. But that’s not what the work environment means. It means more than just your physical space.

It means the hours you work, the company culture, that one’s a big one. The types of benefits that you receive. The people you work with. Do you get along with your colleagues? That’s an important thing, especially if you need to collaborate with people. And also a place that gives you opportunities for development and growth.

So, I want to clarify that piece because when we talk about a supportive work environment, it’s not just that office space where you work. It’s much more than that.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a vivid picture, Ana. Tell us, what does an unsupportive work environment look like?

Ana Goehner:

Sure, so an unsupportive work environment, something that always comes to mind, is like a toxic workplace. But besides toxic workplaces, I also want to talk about workplaces that sometimes they’re not toxic per se, but they’re just like a place that doesn’t suit you.

For example, I’ll give you one that has always been an issue for me. It’s open offices, for example, when you don’t have any sort of walls or anything like that. That might be a place that it can be distracting for you, or it might be a place where they don’t really want you to put headphones on, so you always have to be hearing what’s going on around you, and that might be hard if you need a quiet space to work because there might not be a quiet space for you.

So there’s a difference, and in a toxic work environment, it’s really a place where you don’t feel seen or heard. You can’t voice your opinion. You are afraid to talk about your needs. You are afraid to give feedback or even receive feedback.

So there is a difference, and when we’re talking about work environments that are unsupportive, we’re talking about environments that you really don’t feel like you can talk about anything that’s going on. Let’s say you have a heavy workload and you’re really struggling, not just with work-life balance, but stress and burnout, and you feel like you can’t say anything about it because if you voice your concerns, there could be retaliation, and you might even fear losing your job.

The other thing is when you work in an environment where you don’t have a good relationship with your manager or you don’t have a good relationship with your colleagues. And let’s say some of the work you do, you depend on your colleagues. So you have to have some sort of collaboration. But when you don’t get along, that can be really tricky, and that can affect your work and how you view your work. In this case, your job satisfaction.

Mac Prichard:

Many of our listeners are in hybrid positions, they’re working at home and going into the office two or three days a week. Others are in a hundred percent remote jobs. How has this new world of hybrid and remote work affected a supportive work environment?

Ana Goehner:

Sure, so when you work from home, one of the things that I hear a lot from my own clients is that they don’t feel seen because all of the other people, all they know about them is basically the face on the camera. They haven’t seen them physically. They haven’t seen them in person. So, it can be a little tricky sometimes to make yourself and your work visible. Where when you work in an office, and you see your manager or some of your colleagues every day, that’s a different story.

So you may have more of a proximity there with the people that you see and work with every day, and there’s also that easiness of you just walk by their desk and you talk to them. Instead of, sometimes you have to schedule a call to talk to people if they work remotely, if they’re working in other places.

But supportive work environments, they will take this into consideration, and they will find ways to make sure that the people who work remotely that they feel seen and heard, that they can voice their opinion, that they can give feedback, and all of these different things, and they can talk about if they’re struggling. They have too much on their plate. They feel like they can talk about it.

And also, one thing that I hear a lot from people who work remotely or in hybrid, it’s that there’s a recognition piece. They feel like only the visible people doing the visible work, they are the ones that usually get recognition in terms of, let’s say, a bonus. It can be monetary.

But it can also be, let’s say you have a meeting, and your managers’ gonna say, hey, so and so got this big client, and there’s recognition right there. The entire team hears what’s going on. But you are doing the work and even more work behind the scenes, but nobody’s seeing. It’s almost like everything you do seems invisible.

But in a supportive work environment, your manager is going to take into account that you are a remote worker, or you’re a hybrid worker, let’s say you show up to the office twice a week. While everyone else may want to show up five days a week. There’s that personal preference there. But they will find ways for you to feel like your work matters, for you to feel like the things that you’re doing have visibility.

So that’s the difference between an environment that only sees you more as a number and one that will see you more as a part of the team, no matter where you are located or the amount of times that you show up to the office.

Mac Prichard:

We’re gonna talk in a moment about how to find a supportive work environment, Ana. But, briefly, tell our listeners why you need to make finding a supportive work environment a priority in your job search. Why does this matter?

Ana Goehner:

The first one is job satisfaction. A lot of people believe they need to maybe change careers even, instead of just finding another job because they’re not happy with their job. So they believe that going to another company is going to be the same thing. So they get into that career rut where they really don’t know what to do next. They don’t like where they are, but they also don’t know what to do next.

So, when you are in a supportive work environment, you will likely get the job satisfaction. You’ll be proud and happy to work for that company.

And also, there is career growth. When you are in a supportive work environment, there is a path for you. They have processes and things in place, and they listen to you. Your manager might even come to you and ask, so what do you want to do next? Where do you see yourself? Instead of them having to be the one telling you what to do next in your career.

There’s also the wellbeing that I talked about before. The company’s gonna care about preventing burnout because when you are in that stage, that can be tricky. But when you feel like stress is coming in, what are the coping skills? What can you do to feel better? Or can you maybe give some of your work to somebody else? Or ask somebody else for help?

There’s also the work-life balance piece. Do you have to work twelve-hour days for months and give very little time for your life outside of work?

And there’s a very important piece, too, which is retention. A lot of people, most people I know, nobody wants to start a job and in six months be job searching again because job searching can be really hard. So people want that longevity. They want to be in a workplace where they can stay for at least a couple of years and maybe even longer. They don’t want to just be finding a job every year or so.

And there’s also the professional growth. You have opportunities to learn different skills and improve your career and also your personal life. So I firmly believe that a supportive work environment not only affects your career, but it also affects your life outside of work. Because you’re gonna show up to work, and you’re not gonna be hating Mondays. You’re gonna show up to work, and you feel like work is not draining your energy all of the time.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’re gonna take a break, Ana, and when we come back, I want to dig into how to find a supportive work environment. Stay with us. When we return, Ana Goehner will continue to share her advice on how you can find a supportive work environment when you’re doing a job search.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ana Goehner.

She’s a career strategist and a certified human resources specialist.

Ana’s company helps you with job search, career development, and workplace well-being.

She joins us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now, Ana, before the break, we were talking about a supportive work environment, why it matters in your career, and why you need to make it a priority in your job search, and what supportive and non-supportive work environments look like. Let’s walk through how to find a supportive work environment. I know in your work with your clients, you recommend three steps. Let’s walk through each of those steps one by one.

The first step you suggest for finding a supportive work environment is to do your research. Why is this important, Ana? And how do you do your research? What kind of research do you recommend?

Ana Goehner:

When I talk about research, I’m talking about going beyond the company’s website because any company can hire an employer branding organization to write these beautiful words on their website. But go beyond that. What are other review websites, certified review websites saying? What are former employees or current employees saying?

Of course, you need to take into consideration what they’re saying with a little grain of salt. So just see what they’re talking about, see what is important to you. Are they talking about the particular item in a positive or a negative way?

But the best thing that I always suggest to my clients is to reach out to former and current employees doing similar work, if possible, than the work that they want to do inside that company. Reach out with one question that matters to you. Let’s say flexibility is something that matters to you. Reach out to them with one question and just say, what has been or what was your experience with flexibility inside the organization? And that’s one question.

And then, maybe if they respond to your message and they seem eager to reply and help, maybe you ask another question. But you don’t need to go overboard. It’s just one or two things that are really important to you that are like your non-negotiables. You ask former and current employees, explain to them that you might want to work for this company and you just want to learn more about flexibility, for example, because when you reach out to people with actual lived experience inside the organization, the website may be saying one thing, but the people may be saying something completely different. So, it’s important for you to know what you are getting into before you sign a job offer.

Mac Prichard:

Your second step for finding a supportive work environment is to avoid repeating the past. I think you touched on this in the first segment a bit. But, tell us more about this, Ana. What do you mean by avoiding repeating the past?

Ana Goehner:

So, if you are coming from a toxic work environment, you might unconsciously bring negative feelings with you. I am a firm believer that when you are in an environment that has a lot of negativity and doesn’t suit you, that you become that environment, and you also bring those feelings outside of work. You might bring those feelings to your personal relationships.

So, let’s say you are job searching for another job and one thing that somebody said could be an activator for you. Meaning as soon as somebody says a word or something, you already believe that that work environment is also going to be toxic. When, in fact, that’s not the case. It’s just something that you’re bringing with you because of your previous experiences, because of your past experiences.

But the environment itself, it’s not an unhealthy or even a bad work environment. So it’s almost looking for you to do a cleanse when you come from a toxic work environment, and you are trying to find a better place for you. Because if you continue to feel those feelings, it’s going to be hard to find or even believe that another employer is going to be a better space or a better workplace for you.

Mac Prichard:

How do you do that, Ana? How do you cleanse yourself of the negative feelings that you may have acquired in a toxic work environment?

Ana Goehner:

Sure, so there are multiple things that you can do in that. It’s not just one or two. So, first, I always believe that it’s important for you to talk to someone you trust and someone who’s positive, someone who believes in you, because if you go to somebody, they might even make you feel even worse than you already feel. So it could be a friend. It could be a therapist. It could be a career counselor who can lead you in more of the therapeutic side of things. It could be a career coach.

It’s just important that you talk to someone, and that person might help guide you through those negative feelings and even explain to you that you were in a toxic or negative work environment because sometimes, it may take us months or even years to realize that we were in those environments. Like I said, you become that environment, and you believe that’s what’s out there. That’s how every single workplace is. When, in fact, that’s not true.

Mac Prichard:

Your third step that you recommend taking to find a supportive work environment is to be clear about what an employer means by flexibility. Tell us more about this, Ana. And why does it matter?

Ana Goehner:

So, a supportive work environment usually provides flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules. Usually, when you talk flexibility, or even you see the word flexibility in a job description, you might think that that means, oh, I’m going to have a flexible work schedule. So I can leave work early, show up late, and that’s what they eman. But you need to be really careful with this because even inside an organization that believes in flexibility like that, a manager may have a completely different understanding of what flexibility means.

For example, in their mind, flexibility is allowing employees to work from home on Fridays. When what you need is being able to leave work early three days a week because you have to pick up your child, for example. That’s a completely different understanding about what flexibility means.

So, it’s important that you understand what your manager sees as flexibility and even ask this question directly to them during the interview to get a sense of what their understanding of flexibility. Because flexibility is a big part of supportive work environments where you can usually have a different work schedule, even work from home if you want to.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Ana. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Ana Goehner:

Sure, so go to my new website and take my Career Health Score quiz. It’s like a health check-up for your career. And I also provide job search and career services such as resumes and LinkedIn reviews, career strategy coaching, and interview preparation. I am currently creating more online courses to help you thrive in your career.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, I know, Ana, listeners can learn more about you and your services by visiting your website, and we’ll be sure to include the URL in our show notes and the website article.

That’s, and you also invite the audience to connect with you on LinkedIn, and as always, when they reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Ana, given all of the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to find a supportive work environment?

Ana Goehner:

No one is looking out for your career. Self-advocacy is a big part of the work I do with my clients, and I always believe that you have the right to work for an employer that cares about you. A supportive work environment can help you live a better life. If you work in a toxic one, you might bring the negativity to your personal relationships, and that can affect everything that’s going on around you. So, find a supportive work environment that cares about you where you feel seen and heard.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Jamila Brown.

She’s a career strategist and the co-founder of the 5 Minute Career Hack.

It’s a podcast and a coaching company that helps you change your career and get the salary you want.

Gender differences in job search are real, especially in applications.

Many women, for example, are unlikely to apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the qualifications.

Join us next Wednesday when Jamilla Brown and I talk about how women can show confidence in a job search.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

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