Worried about a toxic corporate culture? Here are some of the red flags

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By Jean Chatzky

What’s most important when it comes to kicking ass in a new job? Experience? Skills? Sure. But according to new research from staffing firm Robert Half, 91 percent of senior managers feel a candidate’s match with a company’s culture is equal to or more important than those things. Amazingly, 35 percent of workers are saying no to seemingly “perfect” jobs if the corporate culture doesn’t seem like a good fit.

35 percent of workers are saying no to seemingly ‘perfect’ jobs if the corporate culture doesn’t seem like a good fit.

They’re onto something. Today, with unemployment at a near-record low of 3.9 percent, candidates have choices — if a company doesn’t feel like the right fit, they know they can keep looking until they find an organization with the attitude and behaviors that they’re looking for. “We hear from candidates every day how important it is that they mesh with an organization, and the people at the organization,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. “They’ll tell us, ‘You know what, the compensation is great, the benefits are great, but I just don’t see myself fitting in there.’”

If you’re unclear on exactly what a good fit feels like, McDonald says that it usually looks a little something like this:

  • Being part of a team you respect and enjoy working with
  • Being recognized by your employer
  • Knowing that your employer is open to new ideas
  • Getting gratification out of your work
  • Leaving work in an upbeat emotional state that you can carry forward into your personal life.

So how do you know when you should just say, “Thanks, but no thanks?” (Or, if you’ve already got a job where the culture is killing you, that it’s time to look around?)

Recognize That Times Have Changed

Gone are the days when employees have to tolerate a negative culture just to have a job, explains Brenda Stanton, vice president at human resources consultancy Keystone Partners in Burlington, MA. “There are so many places and opportunities in this new economy to share your talent and gifts. If you love what you do but find yourself tolerating an abusive boss — or dealing with sabotaging colleagues — it’s time to take your talent elsewhere. The costs are too high to waste any more time in an environment that may allow you to pay your bills, but is slowly killing you.”

In years past, most people would access job opportunities based on the job description alone. Then, after getting the job, we would mold ourselves to fit that culture. “If you were expected to work late and on weekends, you did it,” Stanton says. But today, organizations that are recognized as the best places to work are happy to provide work-life balance and countless perks in order to attract and retain top talent. In other words, you don’t have to settle.

… And That Constant Work Stress Is A Health Risk

Work is where we spend most of our time. “If you’re in an environment that is downright toxic, not only will your days be miserable, but your time at home will suffer too,” Stanton says. “Many evenings and weekends have been ruined due to working in a soul-sucking environment.”

Job pressure — including coworker tension, negative bosses and being overworked — is the number one source of stress in America.

When we work in a negative job, we have a tendency to carry our stress forward with us when we head home at night, McDonald says. According to the American Psychological Association, 61 percent of people say that their job causes stress, and job pressure (including coworker tension, negative bosses and being overworked) is the number one source of stress in America — besting money, relationships and health. If you work for 8 to 10 hours a day in a position that puts your stomach in knots, you’re not going to suddenly be able to switch those feelings off. “That stress is going to show up in other parts of your life and create issues, and you want to avoid that,” he says.

Know Yourself To Evaluate A Good Fit

Your greatest tool when assessing if a corporation’s culture is right for you is to know yourself, Stanton says. “It’s critical to know what you must have when it comes to work, and what you can live without,” she explains. Once you’re clear on that, it’s time to start gathering data. Sites like Glassdoor and Kununu.com are great places to read current and past employee reviews. You can also do research on LinkedIn to find people in your network who work (or worked) at the company you are considering, and reach out and see if they’d be willing to chat with you about their experience, Stanton suggests.


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