- Knowing which red flags to look out for during the recruitment process could help you avoid a toxic workplace.
- Glassdoor Community users and career expert Gorick Ng share their insights on what to watch out for.
- If you spot any red flags, do your research and weigh your career goals against the risks before accepting an offer.
Resources like Glassdoor reviews can help you gauge if a company will be a good culture fit, offering insiders’ perspectives into leadership, salary, and benefits. But it’s hard to truly know how a company operates until you see it from the inside.
To some extent, you have to just trust your instincts. You can also look out for certain questions or comments during the recruitment process that may be signs of a toxic workplace. According to Fishbowl users, Glassdoor’s online community for professionals, it’s better to heed the warning signs and pass on an offer than wind up in an environment that makes you miserable.
Signs of a toxic workplace
When the Great Resignation was at its peak, job seekers were quick to spot some of the major turn-offs in job listings, including phrases like “must handle stress,” “fast-paced environment,” and “work under pressure.” Ng said that high turnover is the most important red flag, explaining that it means “it doesn't seem like anyone's been able to stay at this organization for more than a year.” (Low turnover, conversely, is a green flag, according to Ng.)
Other signs that Ng warns about are bad leadership reviews on sites like Glassdoor and the caliber of your prospective teammates. But if you’re already in the role, there are actions you can take, too, to lay the foundation for your next move. In every job you accept, Ng said you want to find co-workers that you can have a friendly relationship with and mentors who can help you grow into your next position.
Here are five more red flags, according to Fishbowl users.
1. Referring to coworkers as family
One of the most common red flags cited by Fishbowl users was using the word a “family” to describe the team. A marketing manager noted, “Anytime I hear ‘family’ to describe work, I literally cringe,” while another commenter added, “If I ever hear that word spoken in the office, I am packing up immediately.”
Netflix, (ranked #40 on Glassdoor’s 2023 Best Places To Work List) explicitly avoids the term “family” when describing its company culture, saying, “We model ourselves on being a professional sports team, not a family. A family is about unconditional love. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best possible teammate, caring intensely about your team, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.”
2. Conflating long hours with passion
Another phrase to be wary of: “We work long hours, not because we have to, but because we love what we do.” A job shouldn’t consume your life, and a good employer shouldn’t equate excessive hours with your love — or lack of love — for your work.
“If you are in a job where you are required to be constantly ‘on the clock’ whether you are vacationing, taking a sick day or it’s just after hours, you may want to double-check how much time you’re putting in,” Matt Bertram wrote in Forbes. “You are an employee, but this doesn’t mean you’re chained to the desk or at their beck and call.”
If you’re looking for companies that foster work-life balance, start with this Glassdoor list.
3. Unwillingness to negotiate
Negotiating a compensation package is part of the hiring process.Any company that respects its employees should understand that. Yet, one commenter on Fishbowl chimed in with this red flag: “When I tried to negotiate the salary and the hiring manager tells me the experience is more important than the salary.”
Another salary red flag is touting a “competitive salary” or a “generous benefits package” without disclosing what they are.
If a company is unwilling to share details of its benefits package, it may not be the place for you.
4. Asking irrelevant questions
Questions that come up during an interview can tell you as much about the interviewer as your responses can tell them.
One Fishbowl user complained about an interviewer asking only superficial questions during an interview. “I would hate working for someone who would take up my time asking me if I was a color, what color would I be and why. I prefer to work at a place that has well-thought out performance/behavior type questions.” Another community member added, “If you can’t semi-intellectually engage with me for an hour, I can’t imagine what my 40 hours will be like.”
5. Getting a job offer on the spot
If a hiring manager offers you the job on the spot, they’re probably a little too desperate to fill the role. Similarly, if a company won’t let you consider a job offer overnight, you should be concerned about what the work environment will be like.
How to interpret the red flags of a toxic workplace
One bad interview shouldn’t turn you off from a company, but you shouldn’t ignore it either. Ng recommends you start by combing through online reviews and using your network of friends and family to see what else you can learn about company culture and your prospective team. Is there a high churn rate? Are there consistent reports of unprofessional behavior?
Next, Ng said you should think about what you hope to get out of the job, and weigh your career goals against the red flags you’ve spotted.
“What you don't want is mismanagement that negatively impacts your career growth. What you do want is a place where you can build your human social and reputational capital,” he said. “The very severe version is, ‘Is this organization going to implode while I'm there? And is it gonna implode in a way that I can't even put it on my resume anymore?’”
If there’s no risk of reputational damage and you don’t see yourself in the position long-term — but you believe it could serve as a launchpad to your long-term career goals — the red flags may not be so serious. In that situation, decide whether there are managers within the organization who you would want to learn from or experiences that could be valuable to you in your next role. If the answer is yes, it’s worth thinking over the offer.
How to cope with toxic workplace behaviors
Avoiding a toxic workplace isn’t solely a matter of due diligence. Once you’re in an organization, priorities may be redefined or your team or manager may change.
If you find yourself in a toxic workplace, first try discussing boundaries with your manager. If the problems persist, escalate your concerns to human resources. And, when a situation is untenable, it’s okay to find another position.
Remember, if you ever need outside opinions on red flags at work, Fishbowl is just a click away.