How to recognise a toxic workplace – before it’s too late

How to recognise a toxic workplace – before it’s too late

Have you ever found yourself in a toxic workplace?

I’m talking about the type of organisations where micro managers, bullies, gossip and internal politics thrive. At the expense of those who don’t behave that way.

It’s not easy to get a handle on culture from interviews, especially when so often these days they’re done online. We get so many cues from body language, and it’s much harder to create good chemistry through Zoom.

How the recruitment process goes is often a sign of how the company makes other decisions:

  • Are they distracted?
  • Is the interviewer constantly checking their phone?
  • Did they arrive late and flustered?
  • Do they take ages to provide feedback?
  • Have they changed the brief?

What does all of this tell you?

Interviews are a two-way street. It is a business conversation, not an interrogation. It’s also only a small part of your research.

Here are some tips:

  • Insist on at least one face to face meeting, and have a look around the office. Do people look happy? Are they friendly?
  • Have a clear understanding of the company’s expectations on hybrid/remote working.
  • Clarify your objectives and what your employer expects of you in the first 6/12 months. Get it in writing.
  • Ask probing questions about culture.
  • Find out about the onboarding process – how do they take care of new starters?
  • Challenge the organisation on their retention record.
  • Speak to your network: what have they heard about this employer?
  • Find people in similar roles who have worked there before and ask for a confidential chat.
  • Do your online research using Glassdoor or Fishbowl – ie take references on your future employer just as they take references on you.
  • Research, research, research.

That last one is a biggie!

Most people FEEL the warning signs early on. What warning signs are coming up for you? Your intuition is often right in these situations.

There will always be an element of risk. Here’s what one senior communications leader told me:

“The reality is that you can end up with a horrible boss simply be being lied to about what they’re really like, how they operate and how they behave. A boss with a good reputation for values, fairness and honesty is a good start and alumni seem increasingly willing to speak out. If only you ask!”

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