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How to Spot a Toxic Work Culture Before It’s Too Late!
Here are a few red flags to look for before you take the job.
Career 19 Feb 2019

The internet is littered with art world career horror stories that sound like Andy Sach’s experience with Miranda Priestly in real life. With everyone touting how “amazing” the culture of their company is, on and offline, how are you meant to know how toxic the work environment really is? It is time to scratch under the surface and do some investigating.
Here are a few red flags to look for before you take the job to avoid working in such a toxic environment.
Image result for velvet buzzsaw
Image of scene of Velvet Buzzsaw via Polygon

Do some online stalking beforehand

It is really useful to do some online stalking before your interview to dig for some dirt. Do a background scan of the company via anonymous comments left on websites like Glassdoor and Google. Also see if you can piece together former employees’ history by looking on sites such as LinkedIn etc.  Even better, you may have a friend in common with a colleague via social media. If so, get in touch and ask them more in depth questions about the work culture before you apply.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

A ping-pong table, a staff discount and an espresso machine are all just superficial perks. A lot of people consider perks as a positive aspect of a company’s culture. Remember though, perks are just stuff. And stuff does not equate to a great office environment.

Elementary, my dear

It’s time to morph into Sherlock Holmes and take out your magnifying glass. If you get a tour around the work place, before or after your interview, snoop around a bit for some subtle clues of a toxic work culture. Things to keep an eye out for are how the employees interact with each other. This could be if things seem firm and well-ordered or laid-back and chill. Next consider which would be the best fit for you. Also take note on the layout of the office. Prefer your own cubicle to an open office? It is important to take all these things in, to tailor the work environment to your specific needs. Another place many wouldn’t consider looking for clues on corporate culture is the staff bathroom, where a lot can be learned from its upkeep.

Too fast or too slow!

Think about the pace of the recruiting process, as it is another huge clue into the office culture. A speedy hiring is a bad sign candidates should watch out for. If someone is too quick to hire you, they’re probably just using a body to fill a role and showing their overall lack of due diligence. While a speedy recruiting process reflects badly on the company, an overly slow one can be just as bad. This shows a disrespect for your time, as this is can be a big-time waster. Plus, it could also be a sign of things to come when you need to receive and get things done in a timely fashion – chop chop!

Related image
Image of scene from Velvet Buzzsaw via Esquire Singapore
Be brave and quiz the interviewer

As well as listening carefully to the interviewer’s overall tone and the questions they ask you, to find clues into the office culture, think carefully about what you are going to ask them. Rather than asking questions that enable the interviewer to re-tell information from their usual recruiting jargon, ask for real examples that demonstrate how the company truly incorporates it’s positive everyday values. These questions should be centered around the company’s workflow process to get a sense of where there is room for experimentation and innovation, and what processes are bound by inflexible guidelines or bureaucracy. Also ask questions about the more important perks, and again no this does not mean an espresso machine. From holidays, work hours, and work benefits that are not as superficial as a ping pong table, it is important to know what you will receive.

No matter what they say, size really does matter!

Before applying for the role, research into the size of the company and how it will cater to your needs. This is because employees are more likely to do well for different reasons based on the size. A friendly atmosphere is tremendously important at a small company, and as it gets bigger being friendly is still an important but even more important is the ability [for you as an individual] to make a difference. Therefore, the candidates going for positions at smaller companies should ask questions specific to workplace atmosphere and friendly sociability. On the other hand, candidates applying for positions at larger company’s should ask interviewers questions about the impact they are as an individual employee, to make on the overall direction of the company, and where they would have a chance to make a difference.

Trust that little guy in your head and that feeling deep down in your belly

Lastly, there is no better indicator of a potential cultural fit than your gut instincts. If your survival instincts are saying ‘hmmm, this isn’t good, I don’t fit in here,’ Listen to that little friend in your head telling you that. If you walk in and have an overall negative feeling down in your gut, it’s probably not going to get any better, so, RUN!

Text by Peigi Mackillop

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