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Job Security: Vet the company—will it be toxic?

Toxic Chemical Drop At this point, everyone knows that it’s a very hard market for jobseekers. So when an employed person in today’s economy wants out of their current situation, that’s a heads-up for me.

About 30% of my clients have come to me asking for help to find different employment. The reasons they give for “wanting out” fall into three categories:
  • They are afraid of a coming layoff
  • They are in a dead-end job
  • The situation is toxic.
Mostly, it’s about the toxicity. That could mean a toxic environment, a toxic boss, or toxic colleagues.

That said; I’m surprised that there isn’t more Internet chatter about how jobseekers can get a heads up about the office ambience, general tone, level of stress or outright toxicity—during the hiring process.

This is not a concern about dealing with “urgency.” Most job postings uses typical phrases like these:
  • Able to work well under pressure of high priority deadlines.
  • Ability to perform well in a fast paced environment.
  • At least 2 years of experience in a very fast-paced, technically complex arena.
With the fragile profit margins in today’s technology-driven race to global business development, it is a given that companies want the most work from the fewest employees. However, there are choices in managing the environment so people can work at their optimum efficiency and still keep an up beat office tone. They work as a team and stand at the ready to celebrate success.

Case in point:
A client in the medical industry was preparing for an interview with a healthcare facility that has accountability to an organization with an international reputation. I asked her what about her greatest concern for the upcoming interview. She said, “Marcia, I don’t work well when the doctors get upset and yell and shout. I can handle tense situations, but when people seem out of control…”

Work stress On the second day of the interview, during “lunch with the team” my client was becoming comfortable with the people and had a sense that they shared certain values. When asked about any concerns about the position, she decided to just put it out there—authority figures who lose control. The response from a team member was priceless, “Oh, people get fired for that kind of behavior.”

There’s a lot at stake here:
This topic should, in my opinion, be a top concern as jobseekers consider their next opportunity. Another client, a C-suite executive and also in healthcare services, has had two toxic situations in the last three years. A recruiter recently told her that having two positions in three years was a concern.

Further, going into a toxic work environment means additional stress, loss of productivity, and strained working relationships—which in turn affects professional references, networking opportunities, and the ability of the business to manage quality and integrate creative solutions in the changing global environment.

Job fit—a two way street:
A lot of time is spent “demonstrating job fit” in the interview, however, it’s usually a one-way street: the candidate is trying (sometimes desperately) to assure the hiring entity that he or she will fit into the existing culture. It’s all about winning that job offer.

Now that I think about it, I am amazed that candidates spend so little time investigating the quality of the culture during the hiring process. I’m realizing that I need to spend more time coaching my clients to intentionally investigate the company on this matter.

How to conduct a toxicity check:
Here are some suggestions that together, should give the jobseeker some information to help make a decision. It doesn’t mean that if offered, the candidate will turn down a valid offer, but it will at least give them an idea of what to expect if they accept the position.

Work deadline stress Some of these suggestions are a take-off from last week’s article BEWARE and Vet the Company! I think it’s worth the read.
  1. Check the company out on www.glassdoor.com. If there are bad reviews by current or former employees, then bring it up with HR or the hiring manager.
    I’ve had a client do this before. The hiring team looked aghast, called HR who responded with, “Your candidate did a good job checking us out. The concerns on Glassdoor were valid. The employees who gave those reviews are still with the company and the business unit has undergone significant change.” (Good answer!)
  2. Check the company profile on LinkedIn as well as the company’s website. Check their mission statement and their values statement.
    Many jobseekers overlook the value statement. There is a clear delineation between companies that include their employees as part of their values and those that solely focus on measurement of quality product for the customer. E.g. “We pride ourselves on producing the highest quality _________ (product name) with the precision that our customers recognize as the finest in the industry.”
  3. Go back to LinkedIn and search for former or current employees from the company. Ask them for 30 minutes via phone to discuss the day-to-day culture at the company.
  4. During the interview, consider the following questions. Remember to differentiate between “stress” and “urgency.” Also be sure to smile when you ask. These questions should not carry any negative inflection.

  5. Questions to ask:
    • “How would you describe the overall atmosphere in the office during a stressful time?”
    • With HR: “I understand the need for a sense of urgency and I enjoy a fast-paced environment. I work well under the pressure of a deadline. That said, I’d like to understand more about the general environment and degree of tension on a given week. How would you describe the emotional tone in the office?
    • With a hiring manager: “I ask this next question realizing that there will always be a need for urgency and the pressure of deadlines. Nonetheless, how would you describe the general stress level on a given week?”
    • If you are good to the employees
    • With HR: “How would you describe the emotional intelligence of management/leadership when the business is under the stress of deadlines?”
    • With the hiring manager: “When the office is under stress and the tension is heavy, how do you respond?”

    Watch for discomfort with these questions. Does the person shift in their chair? Do they avoid eye contact or have a pained expression? Do they seem slightly offended that you asked? Do they avoid the question(s) altogether?
They’ll think I can’t handle it.
They might. Could these questions disqualify you for the position? Maybe. But a true HR professional and a solid hiring manager will appreciate that you asked and realize that you are not a person who will bring unwanted toxicity into their work environment. This can be a true differentiator—for you as well as the company.





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