How should prospective employees identify a toxic work environment during the job interview process? originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
As the year goes on, many people are thinking about making a move in the job market. In addition to looking for more compensation, advancement opportunities, or a change of place, job seekers these days are paying close attention to company culture–for good reason.
No matter how great the title, the pay, or the role, if a company’s culture is toxic, you will regret taking the job.
Cultures are all different, but in almost all cases a great culture is one where the company’s mission is reflected in the behaviors exhibited by employees day-to-day. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of businesses, and I have seen that too often reality falls short of public image. I even know of several examples where expectations set during the interview process were shattered the minute the employee started work.
Fortunately, it is possible to spot a toxic culture in advance and save yourself from a bad career move. Here are five signs that a prospective workplace might be toxic:
1. Reviews are inconsistent.
Job sites like Glassdoor and Indeed collect and publish company reviews and rank companies by culture–but look for more than just high marks. Check for consistency in the pros and cons listed to get a feel for the culture.
When you look at the cons, look for patterns–especially related to the behavior of the CEO and upper management. Gloss over personal complaints and watch for posts such as, “The CEO doesn’t trust anyone,” or “Anyone here that speaks up is walked to the door.” If you read those comments again and again, run.
You might also see a string of consistently bad, detailed reviews followed by several glowing comments by people who can’t seem to come up with a con. This is a sign upper management has been posting comments to try to clean things up and is a major red flag.
2. Vision and core values are ‘wall art.’
You want to work for a company with a clear mission and values. If the company doesn’t have any statement of this kind, that can spell trouble. But it’s also a concern when a company’s values are nothing but wall art. To find out if that’s the case, ask questions in your interview about values and mission.
Do people know what they are without looking them up? Does anyone mention the subject to you? Also ask if the company’s awards and recognition are based on values. Such questions can help you discover if you’re dealing with a company that says one thing and does another.
3. Feedback is not encouraged or even discouraged.
Great companies regularly ask their employees for feedback–and act on it to make the company better. Look for how feedback is discussed in reviews and ask about it in your interviews. What are some examples of things the company has changed based on feedback? What do you think would happen if you e-mailed the CEO with a suggestion?
Watching how interviewers respond to these questions in the first few seconds will give you the answer you need. If they struggle to reply, beware.
4. Transparency and trust are lacking.
More and more information is public these days, and companies that share their ups and downs transparently are valued for getting their employees involved in understanding the goals and the mechanics of the business. Conversely, companies that keep everything under wraps are typically the ones where unpleasant surprises eventually emerge.
For example, I recently saw a company doing a press release about all its hiring plans and spinning a very positive story to its employees about growth; at the same time, it was conducting two rounds of layoffs. Employees quickly lost trust and defected.
Companies and managers that are tight-lipped about metrics and financials also tend to have the mentality that “it’s our money, not yours.” Wouldn’t you rather work at a company designed to benefit everyone?
5. Family has heavy hand in business.
Ideally, there should be checks and balances in any business, and family enterprises can lack these. So, be careful. When a husband/wife team are at the top or an extended family is forming the leadership team, it can be hard for employees to debate or challenge decisions. Imagine trying to take a complaint about your boss to his wife, the CEO.
In many cases, if you are not part of the family, opportunities for advancement are limited. Since it’s possible to go to work for a family business unknowingly, do your research.
Working at a company with a toxic culture can make it miserable to get out of bed every day and go to work — and life is too short for that. So, take some time to do your homework on company culture before accepting any new role.
Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and the author of the international bestselling book Performance Partnerships. Join 35,000 global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly Friday Forward or invite him to speak.
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