A toxic environment can be insidious. Sometimes, it’s far more subtle than a bullying boss or an obviously harassing manager. Often, it’s the little things that make life difficult for workers, like constant off-hours communication, gossiping, a lack of empathy towards people’s needs and a sense of narcissism and impunity among the higher ups.
Working in this kind of environment is a surefire way to increase your stress levels and undermine your mental health, but it can also damage your self-esteem, self-value and confidence.
Toxic workplaces affect more than just your working life — they take over your conversations with loved ones, impact your sleep, and generally cause worry and stress.
However, sussing out a company before you start working there can be difficult. Resources such as Glassdoor can provide job-seekers with inside information on a company’s culture, but it is easy for reviews to be manipulated by employers.
So if you land a job interview but aren’t sure about the company, what can you find out more about them?
Victoria McLean, founder and CEO of the career consultancy and outplacement services firm City CV, says there are several ways to get the inside scoop about a company during an interview.
Firstly, it’s important that the person who is interviewing you is clued up on the details of the job on offer. One of the signs of a toxic or dysfunctional workplace is a lack of clarity around job roles, which can lead to poor communication, a lack of information necessary to do the job and ultimately, stress.
“If the interviewer comes across as undecided about exactly what the job will entail, that can suggest it’s open to change after you’ve started and therefore might not be the role you thought you were applying for,” McLean says.
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It also helps to take notice of how the interview is structured — and if the interviewer takes the time to find out about you. After all, an interview is a two-way street. An employer can assess whether you are a good fit for the job, and you can work out if it’s the right job for you.
“If the panel comes across as unprepared, if they didn’t seem to be expecting you or don’t have questions ready, or the interview starts late or is hurried, that may indicate your time isn’t valued,” she adds.
“Does the interviewer or panel take the time to find out about you? If they show no interest in you, or dismiss your questions, they aren’t taking the time to understand if you’re the right fit for the role and company.”
You can also be more forthright when it comes to finding out about a company’s culture. Asking questions in a job interview is always a good idea and if possible, ask about the firm’s values.
“If the answers are different to your research, or they struggle for an answer, that can point to the values not being communicated, let alone enforced or abided by,” says McLean. “If questions you ask are not answered or dismissed, that could indicate a company culture of not listening and that they have something to hide.
“Perhaps honesty is not one of their driving forces. Do they make and maintain eye contact? Check their body language — the majority of communication is through body language and tone of voice.”
And if you get offered the job, make sure you do some research before making any decisions. Searching for company reviews from a variety of sources like Glassdoor can be helpful, but make sure you are getting an impartial picture.
“You should research the company before the interview in any case to help with your questions. But dig deeper if necessary, if you feel unsure after you’ve received an offer,” says McLean.
“Ask for a full job specification before deciding. If it’s not forthcoming, they’re probably still undecided about what you’ll be doing.”
If there are red flags, think carefully about whether you want to accept the role. The pandemic has taken its toll on the job market and many people are facing redundancy and income loss, so it’s not always possible to be picky. However, it’s important to weigh up the negative impact the job might have on you.
“Go with your instinct. You want to be happy in your new role and stay for as long as you want, not go through the upheaval of starting somewhere new only to regret your decision and spend months getting out of it,” says McLean.