No one wants to work in a toxic environment where they need to manage unreasonable deadlines or deal with abusive colleagues. Over time, working in a toxic environment can negatively affect your physical and mental well-being. People who have to deal with a toxic workplace environment are more likely to suffer from increased stress, a lack of proper sleep, and often lack the willpower and energy to escape that situation.
Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize a toxic workplace until it is too late, usually during the final stages of the interviewing or onboarding process or long after they’ve been hired. Experts agree that there are signs that you should look out for, and, ideally, you should be able to identify red flags even before applying for a new job.
This article addresses five warning signs that you should watch for, as well as strategies for discovering those red flags before applying.
Here are the five ways you can spot a toxic workplace before you even apply:
1. STAFF MEMBERS SHARE CONCERNING INFORMATION ABOUT THE COMPANY AND COMPANY LEADERSHIP.
One of the most sure-fire ways to get a feel for company culture and determine if the employer fosters a toxic work environment is to reach out to past and current employees within your own personal network. If you don’t have any connections, consider cold-contacting current or former employees through LinkedIn. That is one of the best ways to gain firsthand inside knowledge and identify potential red flags.
Of course, you don’t have to, nor should you, straight up ask if the company culture and workplace environment are toxic. However, there is no harm in simply letting the other party know that you are considering applying for the job and that you would like to hear their feedback about the company.
If they are open to the conversation, ask what the workload is like, about company leadership, if they are happy with the company, or any other issues that concern you. Try and talk to several employees so you can get a better and more holistic understanding of the company culture. So, once you talk to one employee, be sure to ask them if there is anyone else you should talk to.
2. YOU DISCOVER PATTERNS OF NEGATIVE REVIEWS MENTIONING A TROUBLED COMPANY CULTURE.
Aside from speaking directly with people from inside the company, you can also learn more about a company through online job review websites like Glassdoor. These review websites can often give prospective employees a good idea of what keeps certain employees working at the organization or what drives certain employees away.
There’s certainly a difference between leaving a job because of the workload and leaving because management is abusive toward employees. That’s why it is important to be aware of any reoccurring themes that you might see.
Of course, these types of reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt because one person’s criticism of a company does not necessarily offer a clear picture of what it’s like to work for them.
3. YOU SEE VIDEO EVIDENCE OF TOXIC BEHAVIOR.
How people discuss their job and their employees will inadvertently reveal much information about a company’s culture.
A great way to get a sense of what it will be like to work with the leadership teams and coworkers at the company, particularly outside of controlled environments, is to find live interviews. If individuals are impolite when the camera is rolling, there’s a strong chance that they’ll be difficult or mean-spirited in the workplace.
Aside from video clips of interviews and the like, you may also be able to find clues through social media, where unsavory behavior and comments may appear. If you notice that company leadership uses social media to make negative comments about their employees or deny claims that employees have made, you might want to steer clear.
4. YOU DETERMINE THAT THE COMPANY’S ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE SETS EMPLOYEES UP FOR FAILURE.
A company’s organizational structure may hold clues to a toxic and overburdened work environment.
The key is to determine whether or not the company values its staff as employees or as human beings. If you are not valued as an individual at the company, you have less of a chance of being successful in your job, which will surely contribute to a toxic work environment.
One of the best ways you can determine the company’s organizational structure would be to do a little detective work. You can get a feel for an organization’s resources and structure by checking staff bios, information on LinkedIn, and other similar sources. If you notice that the company doesn’t have enough individuals dedicated to certain roles, this could be a telltale sign that success might be difficult.
For example, if you notice that there is just one employee dedicated to a role that should have at least three staff members, based on the company’s size, there’s a good chance that the employee will burn out. It should give you pause when considering how a company values (or devalues) its employees.
5. YOU DISCOVER THAT LAWSUITS WERE FILED AGAINST THE COMPANY.
Has the company been accused of discrimination, unfair labor practices, or other offenses?
Searching for the organization’s name in court filings can reveal a lot about a company and how it treats its employees. Court records will tell you if ex-employees have sued the organization or if the organization has sued its ex-employees. If that’s the case, it may be worth it to spend the money to pull those records and find out the details of the case.
Alternatively, you can search for news coverage related to the lawsuits, which can offer some basic information about the case.
SPOTTING A TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT: FINAL THOUGHTS
Whenever possible, you should perform as much due diligence as possible before applying for a new job or, at the very least, before you accept an offer from a prospective employer. Doing so can certainly save you from headaches in the future.
After all, it can be a lot more difficult to walk away from a job than from a job offer.