By Liz Ryan
I talk to job-seekers every day. Some of them have target lists of companies they’d like to learn more about, and almost all of them have lists of companies they would never work for, no matter what.
Where did they get their lists of companies they would never, ever work for? They either worked for those companies in the past or have friends who did. People talk, and they tell their friends “No matter how badly you need a job, don’t go to work for this company and that company. It’s worse working there than being unemployed, by a mile!”
An employee handbook is a window to the corporate soul. Reading the employee handbook will give you enormous clues to the company’s culture. If they won’t give you a handbook, run away then and there!
Here are ten unmistakable signs that a company you are interviewing with is not a good place to work.
If you read the company’s employee handbook and you find a No-Moonlighting Policy, that’s your cue to back out of the recruiting process, fast! A No-Moonlighting policy is a rule that says that if you work for this company, you can’t have another, part-time job. Why would that be any of their business, if you’re showing up to work and getting your work done?
You should not have to ask permission to spin records at weddings as a DJ or to work part-time at your uncle’s catering company. A No-Moonlighting policy is exactly the type of overreaching, Big-Brotherish practice that corporations only employ when they believe that their team members are insignificant cogs in their machine.
You won’t find this policy in the employee handbook, so it is important that you ask your interviewer about it. Ask them whether the company’s managers are allowed to provide references for their former employees. In many large organizations, they are not.
Even if your old manager wanted to give you a glowing reference, he or she wouldn’t be allowed to do so. Your manager would have to send the inquiry to HR, and all they’d be allowed to do is to verify your dates of employment and your job titles. What a slap in the face to the employee who did a tremendous job, and deserves a good reference!
Ask the question this way:
“I am very interested in the culture of any organization I think about joining. I hope that if we end up working together, that relationship lasts for a good period of time but I also know that people don’t walk into companies anymore and retire from the same company thirty years later. Does your company allow managers to give references for their employees, or are those inquiries sent to HR?”
Only fearful leaders put No-Reference Policies in place. They couldn’t care less whether the No-Reference Policy makes it harder for their former teammates to get a new job. No-Reference Policies are unethical and should be illegal but they’re not, so proceed with caution!
If the handbook talks about Progressive Discipline, get out of Dodge immediately! You are an adult. You are not a wayward third-grader who needs to worry about getting sent to the principal’s office. Progressive Discipline policies that line out the punishments employees will receive for a first infraction, second infraction, etc. are holdovers from the Industrial Revolution and have no place in the Knowledge Economy we are working in now.
Some old-school companies will take money out of your paycheck for stupid things. You will see these policies written out in the employee handbook if they have them in place. We got a call in our office from a young woman who works for an accounting firm in Chicago. Her boss had asked her to order pizza for the team one day.
The young woman ordered $120 worth of pizza for the group and told her manager about it. Her manager got mad. He said, “$120? You could have gotten a better price!” The young employee was freaked out. She went back to her desk and started researching cheaper pizza options online.
She placed another pizza order with a different restaurant. This time the bill was $89. Unfortunately, in her nervous state she forgot to cancel the first pizza order, so both pizza orders arrived.
Her boss said “I’m going to take the $120 out of your paycheck!” Of course, the team ate all the pizza — both orders. Any company that wants to take money out of your paycheck (for a piece of equipment that breaks while you’re using it, e.g.) is not a place you want to work for.
I collect employee handbooks. At least 30% of the 100 or so employee handbooks on my hard drive specify the number of hours the company expects you to work — and I’m talking about salaried employees who do not get paid a penny for overtime!
Some companies specify, for instance, that ‘staff-level’ employees should expect to work 45 hours per week (for the price of 40!), supervisors should expect to work 50 hours per week and management folks should plan on working 55 or more.
Smart companies know that what’s important is that the work gets done – not how many hours people work. If you see this kind of language in an employee handbook, do not take the job — because you will hate it if you do!
Managers Control Internal Transfers
In good companies, employees bid on internal jobs they are interested in. If they get the job, then their new manager and their old manager will talk about a transition plan to get the employee into their new position without leaving the former manager in the lurch.
In bad companies, managers control their employees’ internal transfer and promotion opportunities. They haven’t figured out that if an employee is thwarted in his or her desire to move to a new position inside the company, they’ll just find a new position in another company!
Companies that don’t understand the difference between machines that can be controlled by humans, and talented employees who can’t be controlled, don’t deserve your talents.
Formal Performance Management
Performance Management is the name of a popular HR hoax and scam that turns any job into a series of tasks and goals that you’ll be held accountable for on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. No job worth doing breaks down into tiny, measurable parts.
Good jobs are whole. You know what your mission is and you work toward your mission every day, checking in with your manager as appropriate. Run away from any company that surrounds you with yardsticks and measurements. Working in a place like that would only raise your blood pressure and destroying your mojo.
No Casual Time
When you read a potential employer’s employee handbook, pay special attention to the section of the handbook that focuses on paid time off. Good companies understand that in addition to scheduled vacation time and unscheduled sick time, normal adults need occasional days off to deal with real life.
You might have to take your cat to the vet one day or be called into a meeting at your kids’ school without notice. Good companies have personal time or casual time you can use for those real-life situations. If the only kinds of time off your prospective employer offers are vacation time, sick time and holidays, keep job-hunting! There is a better employer for you than these folks.
Pay Grades Make the Man (or Woman)
Also pay close attention to the discussion of pay grades in the employee handbook you are reading, and listen on your job interviews when people talk about pay grades and levels. In some companies, status and title are everything. These companies are not populated by fun, smart and creative people!
In some organizations you hear people say “Don’t call him — he’s an E5, and he won’t answer your call because you’re only an E3.” They say these things without irony. They think it’s normal to rank and evaluate people based on their title and pay grade. Don’t work with people like that! You have a brilliant career to lead, and bureaucratic, fearful organizations will not help you get there.
Last on our list of bad-company giveaways is the interviewing process itself. If people return your calls and email messages, treat you kindly during the interview process and generally seem to value your time and talents, that’s a great thing.
If they leave you waiting for weeks between each contact, give you endless tests and assignments and behave as though they are members of the royal family and you are a piece of dirt under their feet, don’t stick around!
No employer will ever love you more than they do at the point where they are trying to hire you. If the signals you get during the interview process are negative, don’t expect things to get better once you have the job.
The world is big, and there are lots of good organizations to work for. Don’t you deserve to work for one of them? Invest the time and energy to find a company where you can bring yourself to work. We are cheering you on!