Watch out for these warning signs of a toxic workplace when you’re interviewing, so you can determine if a company has a positive environment and is a good fit.
Like a good first date that turns into a nightmare long-term relationship, problematic employers can talk a good game in the beginning. If you’re not looking for the right signs, you might miss the issues until you’re already on the payroll. Here are some signs of a toxic workplace to watch out for:
1. Peculiar Buzzwords in Job Listings and Mission Statements
Learning how to decode job advertisements is important for reasons entirely unrelated to impressing the hiring manager with your resume and cover letter. Once you understand what the various buzzwords mean, you’ll have insight into the company’s culture, values, and expectations—all of which will help you figure out whether you really want to work there.
A few years ago, Textio, a software company specializing in “augmented writing,” used its predictive engine to analyze common buzzwords in job advertisements at 10 major tech employers. The results offered insight into the corporate culture within these companies. For example, Amazon’s common phrases included “fast-paced environment” and “maniacal,” while Slack’s included “lasting relationships” and “care deeply.”2
Divining toxicity from buzzwords is far from a perfect science. But you should pay attention to how companies talk about themselves in their job listings, mission statements, and marketing materials. It’s worth knowing how they see themselves because that could impact how the organization will treat you.
2. Free Stuff
When is an employee benefit not actually to your benefit? When it’s a trap. Free food, subsidized car fare, and video games and foosball in the break room all sound great. But in reality, these perks are calculated to do just one thing: keep you at the office.
If companies really wanted to make your life better, they’d pay you enough to buy your own snacks and toys and then let you go home to enjoy them.
3. A Much Younger Workforce
Have you ever interviewed at a company where almost everyone seems to be young—just out of college or the equivalent? If you’re also at the beginning of your career, this might seem like a lot of fun. What better way to make new friends than to work with people your own age?
But there are real downsides to a staff that skews young, beyond just the problems inherent in any team without diversity. For one thing, a company that hires mostly young people may be looking for cost savings. Workers with less experience are typically paid less.3 That could be bad news when it comes time to negotiate a raise.
A younger team can also be a sign that an employer is looking for workers who don’t have a lot of other competing priorities—like kids, for example, or aging parents who need care. That’s bad enough if you’re someone who does have those priorities. After all, not all young people are unencumbered with responsibilities. But even if you don’t, you might like to have a life at some point.