Toxic workplaces can ruin a workplace and the lives of employees. The problem is, it can be difficult to suss out exactly what a company is like until you’re working there — and you’re already dealing with bullying bosses, exploitative managers and office politics.
Research suggests workplaces with problematic cultures are surprisingly common. A 2020 survey of 40,000 employees at 125 companies by workplace consulting firm Emtrain found 83% of employees wouldn't report harassment if they saw it and 41% of employees aren't confident that if they made a harassment complaint, their management would take it seriously.
Furthermore, only 20% of employees think managers are aware of how their power influences workplace interactions.
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It’s not easy to spot a toxic working environment before joining a new firm. However, a company’s social media channels can tell you more than you might realise about their values, the way the company is run and how happy employees are — allowing you to make a more informed decision about whether to take a job or not.
“Social media is vital in highlighting a company’s culture. When starting a new job, or even before accepting the job offer, you often go ahead and have a look at the company's social media channels, or even stumble across a few employees on LinkedIn,” says Marianna Erotokritou, social media, communications expert and founder of The Social Hub.
“Although there is no single telltale sign that a company 100% has a negative or toxic work culture, there are a few red flags you should look out for when looking at a businesses social media.”
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Not all companies post on social media and depending on the business, this might be normal. However, it might be a warning sign. “If a company doesn't post on any platforms at all, this is a red flag in itself,” says Erotokritou. “Do you want to be part of a company culture that is a little behind in the times? Does the company even exist if they are not on social media?
“That is the world that we are in now,” she adds. “Just like you may look at a prospective hotel's social media page to see if it is nice enough to book, employers now do just the same when looking to work for a company.”
There may be an emphasis on results and performance alone, rather than job satisfaction, employee wellbeing and morale too. “Yes, it is good that the company strives for excellence and achieves results, but this can come across as boastful and that there is no sense of community or togetherness in the workplace,”
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Erotokritou says. “This protrudes a sense of hierarchy in the workplace, which can be off- putting. Instead they should post the employee that worked hard to achieve this.”
A lack of humour or no signs of life outside the corporate office can also set alarm bells ringing. Ultimately, prospective employees want to know that they’ll be recognised as humans and not just workers.
“Humour is very important in company culture. It shows that as well as striving high, you can also have fun and go for office beers after,” adds Erotokritou. “The key is to be personable and show your face. At the end of the day humans resonate with humans, not tonnes of infographics. It’s a positive sign if companies post regularly and on multiple platforms — they see the importance and value of showcasing their work culture online.”
Of course, a company’s social media channels aren’t the only way to detect a toxic work culture. Erotokritou recommends taking a look at review platforms such as Glassdoor, which can be a great way to see what other employees are saying about working at that company.
A company’s website will also provide information about how the company was founded, its mission statement and core values. Asking trusted friends who work in your field may also unearth some information about a company too.
Most people forget that a job interview is actually a two-way street. Not only is it a chance for employers to find out more about a job application, it’s also an opportunity for the interviewee to find out more about the company. If the company doesn’t seem interested in employee health, wellbeing and satisfaction, taking the job may be a bad idea.