Nothing is worse than waking up and going to a job you hate. Yes, your salary might be competitive, but a toxic work environment can make you want to throw your computer right out the window. When it’s time to refresh your resume and connect with your network to find job leads, you want to make sure that the next company you work for prioritizes a healthy work-life balance for its employees.
“There is no question that a healthy company culture breeds productive, positive, and cohesive employee teams. With this comes teamwork, communication, and efficiency—just the tools needed to operate swiftly and competitively in America’s economy,” career counselor Julie LaCroix tells HelloGiggles.
Unfortunately, not all companies prioritize a healthy work environment as much as they should.
Even though many businesses create cultures that support a healthy work-life balance, some still expect their employees to work around the clock. And because of this, employees are leaving to find better, more stable work environments.
But how can you tell if a potential new job is going to have a healthy work-life balance in the first place? We asked some experts for tips on how you can determine if a company’s work environment is the right fit for you before you sign a contract.
1. Figure out your needs.
Before you apply for a job, it’s important to figure out the kind of environment in which you would like to work. “To see if the company culture matches your needs as a candidate, you must first define those needs,” says LaCroix. “Be sure to consider a few key things that are important to you—teamwork, reporting, performance evaluations, expectations, etc.—and then ask the interviewer how the company handles these things.”
While it’s vital to determine what you would like your next job to look like, you also want to identify the kind of worker you are. This will help you determine if the jobs you’re interviewing and applying for are a right fit for you. “Know your values before you go in for your interview—for example, are you collaborative, or an independent worker? Share these things openly to help you and the company you’re interviewing with determine if there’s a good fit,” career coach Suzanne O’Brien tells HelloGiggles.
2. Analyze the job description.
While it might be hard to discern the company’s work-life balance by simply reading the job description, career coach Mike Gellman tells HelloGiggles you should look out for these four points:
Values: Try to determine the values the company conveys through the description of the position they’re hiring for. “Look for certain phrases that keep coming up again and again which can give you clues about what’s important to them,” says Gellman.
Language: “What is the style of language used? Is it formal, detailed, and filled with stringent requirements? Or is it folksy and more casual?” says Gellman. “Be mindful that ‘fun’ is in the eye of the beholder and cool-sounding phrases such as ‘work hard, play hard’ sound cool, but what do they really mean?”
Accessibility: Even though some job postings don’t show who specifically to address the cover letter to, Gellman says to check and see if “they provide the name and contact info of the recruiter” to determine how accessible the company is.
Perks and benefits: A key way to discern the company’s culture is by checking out the kind of benefits they list on the job listing. For instance, Gellman says, “Do they provide flexible hours or the ability to work remotely? Do they have a competitive vacation policy? Some have unlimited vacation. Do they offer less common benefits like six weeks paternity leave, or professional development opportunities like tuition reimbursement?”
3. Ask for informational interviews.
Reach out to people who have or currently work at a company you want to work for. By talking directly with people who are employed or used to be employed there, you’ll be able to discern if the company’s environment sounds like somewhere you’ll want to work.
Gellman suggests to “have some questions prepared to ask them about what their experience is/was like working there” when you interview them. “This can give you a broader understanding of what the company culture is like and how the employees thrive under that kind of management.”
4. Check out peer review websites and LinkedIn.
Sites like Indeed are a great source if you want to get to the nitty-gritty of how a business is run. Most employees post anonymously, so their answers are honest and raw. But if you’re looking to apply at a small company, like a start-up, O’Brien suggests using LinkedIn to see what the employee turnover is like.
“Sometimes small companies appear to have great retention and culture, but you don’t realize how many people have been booted out the door or left quickly because they weren’t happy. If you see there are a lot of people who left, and they didn’t stay long, that’s a big red flag,” says O’Brien.
5. Check out the front lobby and reception area.
You can tell a lot about how a company runs and the messages they want to send by taking inventory of their reception area. For instance, Gellman says a couple of things you can look out for are if people are socializing or if it’s quiet, and if there’s artwork or trophies displayed on the walls.
And if you want to truly understand how things work, chat with the receptionist. Gellman suggests asking them what they like about working there and to analyze if they’re receptive to your questions.
6. Do a complete overview of the office environment.
Before you sit down for your interview, Gellman says to scope out who is talking to whom and examine how you’re greeted, how people are dressed, and how employees choose to express themselves through their cubicles. While you don’t necessarily want to spy on your possible future co-workers, you do want to keep an eye out for how the floor plan is designed (open vs. closed-door offices), if people are getting along, and if the interviewer is prompt when collecting you for the interview.
7. Ask questions about the company culture.
This is your chance to ask questions to clarify any concerns you might have about the company’s culture. For instance, LaCroix says you can ask “What’s the average length of time people in this department have worked here?” and “In general, how does the team get along?” and “Do people feel productive here, and how is productivity rewarded?”
By asking these questions, you’re looking to see how the company invests in its employees and if there’s tenure. “If there is tenure and camaraderie, you will usually find a healthier than toxic culture–longevity of employment and general positive tone across the company are both huge indications of a healthy company,” says LaCroix.
8. Ask to meet with your potential future colleagues.
If you think you have the position in the bag, ask to see if you can meet with some of your future co-workers. Not only will this give you a better idea of if you’ll mesh well with them, but you can probably receive a more honest answer about the company culture from them.
“Colleagues typically won’t lie about culture; they’ll present a diplomatic version of reality,” says O’Brien. “For example, if you ask a peer what the culture is like, what they like about it, and what they wish could change, they may say something like ‘Our manager is great, she’s super smart and one of the highest regarded leaders in the company. As a result, though, she doesn’t have a lot of time, so I can go an entire week without ever talking to her.'”
9. Pay attention to who you didn’t meet.
Who you don’t meet is just as important as who you do meet. If the company doesn’t introduce you to important employees that you’re supposed to work with, this could indicate that either the company’s communication is not up to par or they don’t prioritize the relationship between superiors and employees.
“If there’s a key stakeholder and you’re not meeting them, you’ll want to find out why. You have the right to meet with anyone you’ll be working closely with, and if the company isn’t allowing it, there’s probably a reason,” says O’Brien.
10. Discern how the interview process made you feel.
Before you say “yes” to any offer, make sure you analyze how you’ve felt throughout the interviewing process. It can be hard not to wear rose-colored glasses and see everything from a new and exciting angle; however, you don’t want to begin working for a new toxic job.
When you’re examining your experience, LaCroix says to ask yourself these questions: “Did the company deliver on what they promised? Were they on time? Did everyone know you were coming in? Did they seem synchronized throughout the entire interview process?”
LaCroix explains that these questions will reveal the teamwork, communication, and general synchronicity of the company. And if they don’t meet the standards of what you were hoping for in your next, then you may want to consider them red flags and move on to the opportunity.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.