Christina Romero* was 24 when she got a job in the marketing department of a large fashion company. Having been told she would have ample opportunities to learn, grow, and be promoted, Romero was excited for what she thought would be a huge opportunity.
But after a few months, Romero realised that a lot of the growth opportunities she had initially been promised were not being practiced. "I was constantly told to focus on the job that I had; they never wanted to hear any new ideas from me," Romero told Refinery29. "There was so much pressure and very much this feeling of employees being disposable."
Romero also felt she was constantly penalised for little things, like looking at her phone or having a conversation with a neighbour. Eventually, it reached a point where she was so stressed she would have panic attacks and dizzy spells at work, and started to lose her hair. "My anxiety was through the roof," Romero added. Despite having been promised a job that would be a stepping stone in her career, Romero found herself in a hellish situation. "I was heartbroken and left after only four months," Romero said.
Looking back, though she did some research before accepting the position, Romero said that she didn't look into company's culture, swayed instead by the external brand image the company maintained. "They make a big deal out of their eco programs and how much good they do," Romero explained. "I guess I was a little seduced by that."
Conversations about workplace culture are increasingly at the forefront of our minds. Whether it's re-contextualising what it means to feel safe at work or becoming increasingly aware that there really are toxic workplaces out there, these days finding a positive, healthy workplace is a priority for many. And with alienation around work culture post covid, many job hunters are feeling the need to be a little more picky with where they choose to work. After all, it's a good idea to get into the habit of doing some research on workplace culture to make sure you don't inadvertently land somewhere inhospitable to your needs or values.
Resources such as Glassdoor provide workers and job-seekers with an inside scoop into company culture, but can also be an imperfect metric. After all, crowdsourcing can sometimes be dominated by individuals who have an axe to grind. Organisations like Glassdoor also release annual and semi-annual lists of the best places to work, and though these resources can be extremely helpful, not everyone is considering jobs at companies that make these lists.
So, if you're someone considering working at a company that isn't on any of these lists — or whose culture isn't widely-documented or well-known — how do you begin to figure out if it's a company you want to join?
We chatted with Cynthia Pong of Embrace Change — a lawyer-turned-career coach who works to empower professional women, particularly women of colour — for some insight into how job-seekers can find out whether a company culture is toxic before applying for, or accepting, a job. Read on for her simple tips to find out if a company you're interested in has a toxic workplace culture so that next time you're on the hunt, you don't accidentally wind up with a job you hate.
*Name has been changed for privacy