Even if you research a company before heading in for the job interview, recognizing the signs of a toxic culture can be difficult for an outsider. After all, everyone tends to be on their best behavior during the onboarding process, and a tech manager who is desperate to make a hire may try to hide a bad work environment or explain the problems away. Don’t kick yourself later. Here are seven early warning signs of a toxic culture:
Innovators are Being Squeezed Out
When the movers and shakers who built the company start to leave or get pushed out, it’s a sign that the good times may be over. “When a company loses its internal challenge function
, it stops taking risks and innovating,” explained Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success. “New management will have to squeeze people to maximize ROI going forward as they settle for incremental growth and try to protect what they have.”
It’s a Revolving Door
While the tech industry is known for high turnover
, attrition rates tend to be higher than normal at companies that have cutthroat, take-no-prisoners cultures and stressful work environments. In addition to researching the company’s turnover rate
and asking why the position is open, candidates should examine the hiring manager’s behavioral interview questions for insight into the organization’s values and work processes. For instance, numerous questions about how you handle stress and conflict may point to a pressure-cooker environment. If you only meet newbies and absenteeism seems high, those could likewise be symptoms of a toxic manager.
More Monologue than Dialogue
The general rule is that candidates should do 80 percent of the talking during an interview. If the manager dominates the conversation or employs a full-court press to get you to accept an offer, don’t be afraid to slow things down. “If the manager tries to oversell the opportunity, that’s a red flag,” said Dr. Paul White, psychologist and author of “How to Avoid Being Hired by a Toxic Workplace.”
“Desperation is a sign of bad management.”
If the manager admits that he’s trying to improve the work environment or that the company is in the midst of a cultural change, it's probably better to wait and see how things shake out, given that nearly 70 percent of all corporate change initiatives fail. “Most people tend to underestimate the amount of negativity that often accompanies a cultural initiative,” White said. “It may not be the best place for you, unless you like drama.”
They Overemphasize Perks
A company’s foosball table is a perk, not a value. There’s an inherent problem when managers and tech pros can’t describe their collective values, culture, or the way work gets done.
The Hiring Manager is Not Prepared
If the hiring manager at a small, fast-growing company runs late to an interview or didn’t have time to read your résumé beforehand, that’s not necessarily a bad culture sign—so long as he’s energized and encouraged about where the company is headed. However, if a tech manager at a mature company doesn’t have time to prepare, look out: “The place is probably in chaos,” McKeown said. “Worse yet, companies with a lot of open positions to fill tend to hire the ‘least worst’ person, even if all candidates fall short of the target,” he added.
Workers Chained to Their Desks
If you’re not allowed to venture beyond the conference room door or talk with prospective teammates, proceed with caution. Perhaps the manager doesn’t want you to see the nameless tech pros toiling away silently in the vast cubicle farm. “Get intentionally lost on your way to restroom and wander around,” McKeown advised. “Does anyone make eye contact with you or ask if you need help or directions? If the office has no vibrancy or pulse, something is seriously wrong.”