Spot a Toxic Work Environment BEFORE You Take the Job

Posted October 4, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

Recently, Women & Co. by Citi published an article on toxic work environments – namely, how to know if you’re in one. And though their advice was spot on, I thought to myself, “who cares about identifying a toxic work environment when you’re in one! It’s already toxic!” What Career Girls really need is the ability to identify toxic work environments before you say yes to the job offer. A few are the same, but many are different than those Women & Co. promoted.

4 Signs You’re Looking at a Company with a Toxic Work Environment:

  1. High turnover. Sure, there are lots of reasons a company experiences large turnover. They could be growing, they could have experienced layoffs. But high turnover is a great way to spot a toxic work environment. I once went through an interview process where 9 of the 11 people I interviewed with had been at the company less than 2 years. Huge red flag, and while I didn’t see it at the time, I did after I was in the toxic environment.
  2. Word choice. When someone is trying to hide the fact that you’re interviewing for what could be a toxic work environment, they might use specific language. They’ll ask how you deal with “tough personalities.” They’ll dwell on how you “handle criticism.” They may even tell you outright that certain people are toxic or hard to work with. It’s easy to miss these things and instead favor the good things about a company. But watch for consistencies. If everyone you meet is using words like “challenging” and “demanding” and “difficult,” it could be the work environment truly is high performance, or it could be that it’s toxic.
  3. Where does authority lie? In healthy work environments, bosses trust their employees. Sure, they want to double check to ensure they’re making the right decisions, but decision making is permitted at levels below the C-suite. If you’re consistently feeling throughout an interview process that the hiring manager or HR execs don’t have authority to hire you, and that only a single person at the top is making the decision, chances are those people don’t have authority elsewhere either and will contribute to a toxic environment. Know who has authority in your hire and their level of autonomy.
  4. Little social interaction between staff. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it works in most environments. Coworkers and leaders who like each other and work in a productive and fun environment tend to spend time together over lunch, for happy hour, and outside of work. Ask about company gatherings that are both formal and informal. How is the culture between staff members? Do they go to lunch or drinks together? If they don’t, it could be because they’re in an environment that doesn’t promote these situations or that they’re so exhausted of their toxicity that they want to run home at the end of the day.

It’s difficult when you’re going through a job interview process to see the negative red flags when you want so badly to get an offer. But you’ll thank yourself in the long run for seeing them and running in the other direction!


About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."