By Courtney Connley – CNBC
Interacting with a toxic boss or colleague, or working in a stressful environment, can have a huge impact on the trajectory of your career. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 employees have left their job in the last five years due to toxic workplace culture, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
While most signs of a toxic workplace aren’t noticed until after you’ve started a job, Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi and lawyer turned career strategist Cynthia Pong agrees there are a few signs you should look for in the interview and hiring process to ensure that you don’t end up in a toxic work environment.
“There are several red flags to look for during a job interview,” Salemi tells CNBC Make It. “As excited and as happy as you are about this potential opportunity, you need to go into the interview thinking and observing objectively.”
Below Salemi and Pong, share five subtle and not-so-subtle signs you should pay attention to before accepting a new job offer.
1. Disrespectful behavior
Though it may be hard to pick up on whether or not employees at a company like, or don’t like, their boss or colleagues, Salemi says there are a few things you should pay attention to in order to see if they at least respect each other at work.
If you’re going through an in-person interview, she says to pay attention to how people greet each other as they take you from one interviewer to the next. “Do they seem respectful? Do they look at each other in the eye,” she asks, adding that you should also pay attention to their body language to see if they look uncomfortable or if they switch their body weight in their seat when you ask about their employer and the group dynamics at the company.
An interviewer’s body language “is also something you can pick up during a Zoom interview because video job interviews are the new normal right now,” says Salemi.
Additionally, she says, you want to pay attention to whether there’s “an overall lack of enthusiasm or interest in the company” and whether an interviewer is interrupting you when you ask questions. All of these signs, she says, can point to an internal culture where disrespectful behavior takes place.
2. A boss who rarely talks about their team
Roughly 60% of people say they’ve left a company because of a bad manager, according to SHRM. To ensure that you aren’t entering a workplace with a toxic boss, Salemi says it’s critical that you pay attention to how the leaders of the company speak about their team during the interview process.
“Pay attention to what they say, how they say it, and how they speak about their group,” she says. “When discussing an achievement or accolade, do they talk about the team, or do they talk about themselves?”
If they talk about themselves a lot, Salemi says that can be a clear sign that they’re a self-absorbed boss. And if they focus on the shortcomings of the team when you ask about some of the company’s challenges that can be a signal that they have a lack of trust and respect for the employees who work for them.
3. High turnover rate
When going into a job interview both Salemi and Pong agree that it’s important for you to treat the process like a two-way relationship where both you and the interviewer are asking questions to ensure that the company is a good fit. One of those questions Salemi says you should ask is “Why is the position open?”
“That’s very telling in certain respects,” she says. “Number one, if someone left because they were promoted, that shows you that they’re into advancing internally within the team and that could be promising for you.”
However, if the person previously working in that role was fired, then Salemi says the hiring manager may not be as transparent when answering this question, and you can follow-up by asking, “How is the group expanding, and where do you see the group in the next six months to a year?”
Another way to find out about a company’s culture and turnover rate, she says, is to look at employee review sites like Glassdoor to see if the company’s overall culture is toxic or if there is a specific department that employees are unhappy with.
“For instance,” Salemi says, “if you are an accountant looking to work within a specific pharmaceutical company, perhaps the accounting department is not toxic, but the company has negative reviews overall which were primarily written by another department such as the sales team.”
To get further insight into whether people leave a company because of issues within their own department or issues within the firm overall, both Salemi and Pong suggest using LinkedIn to reach out to people who previously worked at the company to see if they’re willing to talk about their experience.
“Ask them open-ended questions about what it was like to work there and did people tend to stay or were there a lot of turnovers,” Pong says while adding that if you build up a good rapport with the person then it’s not inappropriate to directly ask why they left.
If you’re unable to connect with a former employee, then Pong says you can also get an insight into an organization’s turnover rate by asking in your interview if there are opportunities for growth at the company. This way, you can see if there is even room for people to stay there and grow in their careers. If the interviewer beats around the bush when answering this question, Pong says the company may have a revolving door culture where people don’t stay very long.
4. Lack of diversity
In addition to asking the right questions, Pong recommends you do ample research to get insight into the details that likely won’t be addressed in an interview. This includes looking at a company’s diversity numbers, she says, and whether there are any diverse leaders at the top.
“Keep an eye out for a vertical segregation situation,” Pong says. “And I mean that both by race and gender. Like are there a lot of white people at the top and all the people of color at the bottom of the organization’s chart? Or, are there only White men at the top and then all of the women at the bottom?”
This information, which can usually be found on a company’s website, is something to be mindful of. A lack of diversity in leadership can often lead to ongoing cases of racism, sexual harassment, and discrimination in the workplace.
To take things a step further, Pong says you should also Google the company to ensure that there haven’t been any sexual harassment lawsuits or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination claims against the company because those are certainly red flags.
5. Perks that are too good to be true
Working for a cool brand with extensive workplace perks and amenities is always nice, but Pong says you want to be mindful to not let these perks and benefits overshadow the reality of a company’s culture.
For instance, she says, some companies may offer nap rooms, free meals, game rooms, and other exciting amenities because they want you to spend all of your time there. To find out if a company has a culture where employees are overworked and burned out, Pong says you can ask questions about productivity such as what hours do people work and how are people evaluated.
If you’re able to connect with a former employee, then you can also ask how often workers take advantage of the perks, and if they actually help make the company a supportive work environment.
To ensure that you don’t enter an unfit culture with long work hours, Pong says you should pay close attention to how a company leader speaks about the firm’s perks and benefits as well as its productivity expectations. Ask yourself, she says, “Does it sound too good to be true? Because if it does then they’re probably overcompensating for something else.”