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The importance of company culture

Hi friends,

When it comes to working in sports, we’ve all heard the horror stories. “There’s no work-life balance!” “What’s a vacation day?” “You can’t ask for a raise. Don’t you realize there are a million other people out there who would love to take your job?” “Slack message at 5 am or 12 am? Doesn’t matter, you better be on-call 24/7.”

And sure, in some cases, those are definitely true. In fact, both Sam and I have worked at places like that at one point or another in our careers. But as with any industry, it really depends on the organization (and sometimes even the specific department) you’re in. Ultimately, the differentiator is culture. We know, we know, culture has become a trendy buzzword. But it really is a key piece of job satisfaction. That’s something I learned at my very first job at ESPN. While I thought that loving my day-to-day responsibilities (like researching statistical-based storylines and creating stat packets for college football Saturdays) was enough, I quickly realized that who you work with, and particularly for, are even more important. As I found myself in a toxic environment dealing with sexual harassment, I became increasingly stressed and dreaded going to work, even on days when I was in studio doing what I had previously loved. That’s why I ultimately left. And the 30+ people who left the department in the six months following my departure underscore the fact that there were much larger cultural issues within the team, which started at the top.

After leaving ESPN, I was in search of something different, some kind of proof that it wasn’t like that everywhere, that not every role in sports would make me question my desire to even be in the industry. Enter the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League. Although I later left for the Eagles as the league was folding just a year later, to this day it remains the best job I ever had, in large part because of the culture. Our front office consisted of roughly 10 people…total. Yep, 10 people running an entire professional sports team. As you can imagine, it was a bit chaotic at times. We worked long, non-traditional hours and were often forced to wear many different hats (a lot of times those extra responsibilities didn’t really fall under your area of expertise, but this was an all-hands-on-deck kinda place.) As the Director of Communications, I oversaw not just comms, but PR, marketing, social media, graphic design, videography/photography, and some operations/logistics. I even managed mascot appearances, which involved sorting through requests, scheduling community events, and hiring mascot performers. Our mascot, also known as Soulman, became the bane of my existence because I was always running that costume all over the tristate area for appearances. (One time, when none of our regular mascot performers were available for a last-minute event, I made my younger brother dress up in the costume. Probably my fav Soulman moment of all time, lol – see below for a pic).

It was a lot, but it allowed me to gain incredible hands-on experience at a very young age, something I wouldn’t have gotten in a bigger organization. And while there were certainly stressful moments (like the time I had to call a player at 7 am and ask why he wasn’t at the news station yet for our 7:05 am appearance) or days that felt like a grind (like 12-hour game days where you walk 10+ mile, lol), I worked with great people who made it worth it (shout out to my Soul besties Jack and Abby!). Our team president also prioritized relationships and focused on fostering a fun, collaborative work environment. He genuinely cared about employees and made sure to give us time back whenever he could in recognition of the extra hours we put in during the season. Imagine how refreshing that was for me, having come from an environment where it was common to work 20+ days straight without a break and where you felt like you had to sell your soul to take one of your hard-earned PTO days (“Of course I’ll work the next six weeks and every weekend and holiday for the rest of the year if you’ll just give me next Saturday off for my grandpa’s birthday. Thanks so much, you’re so generous!”)

While I’d love to say that I never ran into a toxic culture again (more on that in another blog post), I did learn a valuable lesson. My experience with the Soul shaped my priorities and the value I placed on culture. I realized that not only was I happier, I was much more productive in a role where I knew I was valued as a human being. Having a team leader who prioritized his employees’ well-being and coworkers that I trusted and cared for made me want to work even harder.

So as you’re applying to jobs, keep culture in mind. Finding the right organizational fit and company culture can make all the difference.

Remember, you’re awesome and you belong here.

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