4 workplace red flags to watch For
Interviewing for a new job is a heady, exciting time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the scintillating back-and-forth of courting and being courted by an exciting new workplace, and sometimes our rose-colored glasses can obscure the red flags.
If you’re considering hiring on to a new company, it’s important to stay alert and keep an eye out for indications that the work environment there may not be everything it looks like from the outside. Here are four warning signs to watch for when researching a potential workplace.
1. Underpaid employees
Everyone wants to be compensated fairly for their labor; it’s the primary reason most of us go to work in the first place. It stands to reason that one of the biggest red flags out there when it comes to potential employers is a history of workers being underpaid. This can include being paid less than originally negotiated, being paid under the minimum wage, or being forced to work through breaks.
Failure to pay minimum wage or provide employees with regular breaks is a clear sign that an employer doesn’t value their workers, which means your odds of long-term happiness at that particular workplace are slim to none. A healthy and positive workplace environment requires employees to be compensated sufficiently for their contributions to the company. If you uncover any history of underpaying or wage disputes when researching a potential workplace, it’s probably in your best interests to look elsewhere for employment.
2. Frequent employee turnover
In some industries, a high rate of turnover is standard and isn’t necessarily a red flag in and of itself. Retail and food service jobs, for instance, are often sought out by students, part-time employees, arts professionals, and other people with nonstandard or fluctuating availability, so those workplaces tend to feature a revolving door of new hires.
However, if you’re reviewing a potential office job and no one seems to have been at the company longer than a year, that could be a sign of a dissatisfying, unsupportive, or hostile work environment. Another possibility is that there’s little room for growth, or that salary expectations aren’t being met. People tend to feel loyal and want to stick around when companies treat them well, so if you notice a high rate of turnover at a prospective workplace, it’s worth doing a little more research before hiring on.
3. Combative responses to online criticism
Higher-ups tend to put their best face forward when courting a new candidate, which can make it difficult to get a sense of the day-to-day management style at a new company before hiring on. Fortunately, the rise of the internet has given us an invaluable resource for finding out information about potential workplaces. Online review boards such as Google, Glassdoor, and Yelp are a great place to look for signs that your prospective new boss might not be as friendly or helpful as they seemed during your interview.
While negative reviews and criticism are a reality for just about every business, how your prospective company responds to that criticism can tell you a lot about the personalities of the people in charge there. If the owner or manager has a pattern of leaving aggressive or antagonistic responses to criticism from dissatisfied customers, there’s a decent chance they’ll respond similarly to employee mistakes or complaints. Glassdoor is an especially useful resource for doing this kind of research, since the reviews there are all from former and current employees.
4. Unclear or no hierarchy
Having a strong and well-delineated organizational structure is one of the keys to a healthy, functional workplace. According to the American Psychological Institute, empowering leaders in a workplace creates a positive influencing effect on employees, enhancing the meaningfulness of the work environment. Hierarchy helps everyone in the office know what their role is, and who to report to when there’s a problem that needs addressing.
Some workplaces function well without a strict hierarchy, including smaller companies and some nonprofit organizations. However, unclear hierarchy can also lead to confusing situations where employees aren’t sure who to report a problem to. In this type of environment, blame often gets spread in all directions when something goes wrong, leading to a defensive, inherently distrustful office culture.
If you’re touring a possible workplace and can’t get a clear read on the chain of command, or if your interviewer uses phrases like “We’re just one big family here,” that could be an indication of a murky or nonexistent organizational structure.
The bottom line
When you’re interviewing for a new job, make sure you stay open to the realities of the company and do your due diligence before agreeing to work there. Educate yourself on these four workplace red flags, and you’ll be able to spot a dysfunctional office environment from miles away.