We talk a lot of shit about bad bosses — we've all either had one or had a friend vent to us about theirs. Unfortunately though, it’s usually pretty late in the game that we pick up on their toxic tendencies, and figuring out how to deal with a toxic boss while you're in the thick of it is the worst. But what if you could catch a bad boss in the recruitment process?
Securing employment, or even landing a job interview, can be tough enough. And when you’re cash-strapped and job-hungry, it's easy to have your blinkers on and overlook some warning signs during the hiring process. It's important to remember, though, that as much as the hiring process and interview stage are opportunities for a company to see if you’re the right fit, they are also chances for you to suss out whether your potential employer is right for you.
How to catch a toxic boss early on
When I saw a TikTok from Allison Peck (@allifromcorporate0) where her hiring manager actually offered to give her references from previous employees who had worked under him, I was gobsmacked. “He told me, ‘Here’s three women who have worked for me before and they’ll serve as my references and they’ve said you can call them and ask what it was like as a woman working for me'. I called them and they said he was the best boss they’d ever had. I worked there for years," Peck said. Talk about a power shift.
Abbie Baker, director of Baker Recruitment, says this practice of asking for or receiving counter references is one that she hasn’t encountered much before. “But it's definitely something that I think is worth [employers] doing,” she tells Refinery29. After all, being upfront and hearing from others that a manager has a good track record is a selling point to a potential employee.
Having a boss offer up those references on a silver platter won't always be the case in the recruitment process, but you can look elsewhere for insights. Baker points to Glassdoor, a site where current and former employees can anonymously review companies, as a place where transparency is valued, making it a helpful resource to spot the presence of toxic work culture.
Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between an employee's happiness and their relationship with their direct manager. “The biggest reason we are seeing people move jobs is culture,” Baker says. “A boss that has an open-door policy or where you feel like you can approach them, keeps staff settled." According to global management consulting firm McKinsey, relationships with management are the most influential factor in determining employees’ job satisfaction, and toxic behaviour in the workplace is the largest predictor of negative employee outcomes. And yet, McKinsey found in a survey that 75% of participants said that the most stressful part of their job was their immediate boss.
Though you might not be able to get the full lowdown on a manager while you're in the midst of the hiring process, there are some warning signs that you can look out for on sites like Glassdoor. “A business that has turned over a lot of staff? That's usually a red flag," says Baker. "Why have they gone through so many employees? If an employer or a boss is a good boss they tend to be able to retain staff."
How to spot a bad boss in an interview
In the interview process, Baker recommends that candidates ask why the vacancy is available in the first place. She also encourages people to do some background research on business turnover and retention before speaking with a hiring manager, so that you know whether or not they are being transparent and truthful.
It’s not a one-way relationship, it's a two-way relationship.
“How many people they've had in that role is another good question to ask,” Baker adds. “One person who's had three or four PAs — why is that? You want to know what sort of support [your potential boss] can provide."
Lucky for us, there are some green flags to look out for too. In addition to asking for counter references, Baker says that clear communication is the simplest indicator of good management. A clear onboarding process and a business plan that outlines how employees can achieve their professional goals are two other green flags that Baker likes to tick off.
“For me, a good boss is always a good mentor,” she says. “It’s not a one-way relationship, it's a two-way relationship. You're working for somebody, but you also want them to help you achieve your goals."
This story was originally published on Refinery29 Australia.