Episode 62: How can you tell if your workplace is toxic?


May 18th, 2021

34 mins 33 secs

Your Hosts

About this Episode

May is mental health awareness month, and we want to tell you to take care of yourself. Yes, you hear us talk about self care, but we also want you to know that you’re not alone and that your employer may have resources for you.

Today we’re talking about toxicity and how to tell if a work environment is healthy or toxic. Liz has a coaching client who is looking for a new role after leaving a toxic culture, and she wants to make sure she ends up in a better place. Of course, the branding on the old company’s website makes it look like a safe and happy place, when in reality, it’s a pretty terrible environment. We dive into how you can explore to see if a company’s environment will be a good place for you.

Review our job search learning track: https://realjobtalk.com/resources

What is a toxic work environment? It’s different for everyone. A big question to ask yourself, “Do you feel safe at work?”

Kat works with clients to build constructive (aka more effective) cultures. They can be:

  • Achievement-focused goals: work together, but see individual contribution is important.
  • Self-Actualizing: high levels of integrity and reflective
  • Humanistic/encouraging: involves others in their decision making process (vs being a dictatorship)
  • Affiliative: cooperative, friendly, puts others at ease

What gets in the way of having a constructive culture? Lack of safety. When people don’t feel safe, they are sometimes passive defensive (avoiding tough conversations, protecting themselves, people pleasing/approval seeking, avoiding putting their neck out to protect themselves), aggressive defensive (disagreeing to prove a point, competitive over collaborative), or perfectionistic.

If you don’t feel safe in some way, it’s toxic for you.

How do you get over a toxic situation? Talk with someone who knows you and learn what triggers you and what you’re not looking for when you make a move. What am I avoiding and what do I need to know to avoid it in the future?

Questions to ask to figure out if a place is toxic (during in-person interview process):

  • How are decisions make here?
  • What’s the process when this team starts new projects?
  • How do people on this team share ideas?
  • What is the manager’s style?
  • What problems will I be figuring out on my own?
  • Peer question: How involved in your day-to-day work is the manager??
  • What made you join/stay at Company XYZ?

FYI: employment branding is marketing! Companies pay people to write values and make their companies look like great places to work.

Ask questions around the values. You say your company values learning, so what are some classes you’ve taken in the last year?

If someone is shutting down or not answering, probing won’t help.

YOU own your career and need to ask the questions that will determine if it’s the right place for you. It’s your job to peel back the employment branding work to see what the real work environment is like and is it going to be a good fit for you.

Assess items off your must-have list and values to determine fit.

How does this change in a remote setting? Ask questions like:

  • How will I get to know people on the team or in other groups?
  • What does onboarding look like?
  • What was the culture like before and how has it changed?
  • What are you hoping changes/happens in the “new normal”?