5 Red Flags That Could Be Signs of a Bad Work Environment
Can you spot a toxic work environment from just a job ad? Here are 5 potential red flags to make you think twice before you apply.
They expect you to work for equity and/or tiny pay: “This is an amazing opportunity!”
This startup says they can’t pay you, but you’ll enjoy generous equity options and the sheer bloody privilege of working with the next Uber of this-and-that or the Airbnb of something-or-other.
You know what else is an amazing opportunity? Being able to feed yourself. Sure, taking a pay cut isn’t the end of the world if you can afford it and the company otherwise puts a spring in your step for some reason. But tread carefully and consider the tradeoffs when it comes to sacrificing cash for equity that may or may not ever pay off.
They assume you’re super excited about working long hours: “Go the extra mile!”
Was I OoO when it was somehow decided that “going the extra mile” is now the bare minimum? It’s one thing to look for dedication and passion—there’s nothing wrong with companies wanting to hire people who put in the effort! But if you’re expected to work crazy hours by default, something’s a bit off about the company’s priorities. Here’s a requirement from a job description I saw in real life:
“Mission driven and dedicated (we work Mon-Sun)”
That really should be your decision to make, not the starting point mandated by the company. In a world that’s becoming increasingly aware of the merits of working shorter weeks, this kind of tyranny doesn’t make sense. Find a company that values your work-life balance, and enjoy!
They’re a bit too proud of their lack of structure: “No corporate BS!”
Startups tend to take a lot of pride in their hatred of corporate hierarchies and anything else you could put the word corporate in front of. But if a job ad seems a little too focused on their lack of anything resembling structure or rules, the company might be heading towards disaster.
Here’s a real example that takes this quirk to the extreme:
Here is what we don’t have:
- Solid structure
- Defined KPIs
- Strict rules
- Corporate payroll and compensation
There’s a reason most companies adopt some sort of structure as they grow: otherwise they become unmanageable and things can go belly up real fast.
Find a company in that sweet spot between freedom and chaos (understands that KPIs are OK, doesn’t micromanage your every step) and you’ll be golden.
They copy/paste irresponsibly: “1 year(s) of experience”
Some job ads are based on online templates. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except for when it becomes obvious that the people posting them aren’t paying attention.
Requiring “1 year(s) of experience” and forgetting to delete the (s) is a great example of this. It’s small enough to miss, but once you notice it, you wonder what else they’ve put in their job ad without thinking.
In a delightfully ironic flourish, many of these lazy job ads have the gall to ask you for attention to detail.
They’re across-the-board demanding: “We only hire unicorns!”
Here’s another company that thinks it knows what it wants (Unicorns! Exceptional talents! Rockstars only!) but doesn’t. They want you to be good at everything because they haven’t sorted out their priorities and also, they apparently don’t know how human beings work.
A smart employer knows that on today’s job market (talent shortage, anyone?), the clever move is to look for adaptability and a capacity to learn, not multi-hyphenate all-stars.
Of course, these signs aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, especially if you only spot one or two at a time. Ultimately, a job ad is just a job ad and you won’t know the deal until you at least interview with the company.
So if you like the sound of a job and the ad doesn’t specifically say “We will literally sell your kidneys and steal your cat,” give it a shot. Unless it’s an actual scam—see this article on how to avoid fake jobs.