The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put many corporate leaders to the test — after all, it has created myriad operational and financial challenges. And though business pressures differ from one company to the next, some are responding to the crisis better than others and are going above and beyond to support employees.
Apple plans to pay its hourly contractors throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, for instance. Google and Facebook are also offering paid emergency leave to help parents ease into distance learning. Starbucks is extending its mental health benefits to include 20 free sessions for employees and eligible family members, and PepsiCo is increasing the pay of certain employees by at least $100 a week.
Companies lucky enough to weather this storm will bolster their brand identity, reputation, and goodwill by doing everything in their power to keep valuable contributors employed and engaged. This also tells prospective employees that they’ll do their best to protect what matters to them — their workers — in times of crisis.
A Question of Culture
A healthy culture alleviates the stress of the unknown. It makes employees more versatile and self-sufficient, which allows a company to switch up its operating rhythms with greater agility, security, and trust. That’s a real asset for both employer and employee during times of uncertainty.
Think back to the last time your work led to a sleepless night. Sometimes, that situation is driven by factors outside your control. But more often than not, it’s the result of interpersonal conflicts, feelings of neglect, or other demons that get the most of your mind.
Establishing trust in the workplace helps people see when organizations have positive intent. This deters all that counterproductive energy, freeing up hours upon hours of stress and avoiding personal feelings of failure or rejection.
To be sure, it’s never an employer’s intent to establish an unhealthy culture. However, unrealistic workloads, poor organizational resources, lack of autonomy, and low social support can all lead to conditions that diminish a person’s worth and increase the risk of burnout.
Although evaluating the “health” of a company’s culture (at least from a job seeker’s perspective) is no small feat, it’s a critical aspect of determining fit. Fortunately, the signs are there if you know where to look, and the following are often the best places to start:
1. Company Ratings
Want to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly about a potential employer? Look no further than company ratings. Sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed use recent employee feedback to arrive at overall company ratings — as well as scores for culture, management, work-life balance, and other factors that might go into your employment decision. Any score above 4.5 is a good indication of, well, a good place to work.
These sites also give you direct access to personal accounts of what it’s actually like to work for a certain organization. You’ll find firsthand information about job security, career advancement, salary satisfaction, office politics, and so on. But as with any review site, there’s a difference between a past employee offering useful, constructive feedback and one just airing his or her grievances.
2. Blind Networking
There’s something truly magical about engaged employees’ willingness to share their experiences. Someone in your network might be connected to a past employee, consultant, freelancer, or another professional familiar with the organization. See if you can set up a quick informational meeting, and do this via Zoom, Skype, or another videoconferencing platform if need be.
What to ask during these calls is entirely up to you, but consider starting with direct questions about the culture, challenges, turnover, advancement, and leadership. Then, you can compare what has been said during interviews with firsthand experiences. What an employer feels it excels at isn’t always the same as reality.
3. Nonverbal Impressions
When an office tour is on the table, take it. You can get a real feel for the company vibe. Is the office full? Is it lively? Are people talking to one another? What about whiteboards? Do they look fresh with creativity? Better yet, do the employees who aren’t interviewing you smile?
You can glean a lot about the culture, environment, and workplace as a whole by how employees interact. Just sitting in the lobby can tell you a lot about an employer. If employees seem friendly and energized to be in the office, rest assured this is a place people want to be after even the best of weekends.
Most answers to interview questions will be marketing-approved — it’s not like a company lacking a strong culture will admit that. But you can certainly keep an eye out for red flags by posing very specific questions that might lead the interviewer to dance around the specifics about leadership, culture, and advancement. Again, go with your gut if you feel most of the answers are canned.
Take the current COVID-19 crisis as an example: You could ask how the employer engages with its employees during this time. What is leadership doing to keep people connected and maintain morale? If the interviewer is left flat-footed (or needs to get back to you with a response), the writing might very well be on the wall.
Ultimately, the measure of a company is personal — as is the decision for choosing one employer over the next. But company culture should never be discounted. It’s what leads to job satisfaction for years to come. Do your research, look for the cues, and keep your self-interest in mind at each and every interview.