You’re likely here for three possible reasons. One, you’re a fresh grad—a newbie in job hunting—so you want to know what kind of traps to look out for. Two, you’ve recently quit your job and you hope to see your reasons for leaving on this list (and low-key justify them). Or three, you’re currently working in an environment totally different from the “rainbows and butterflies” your company promised during the application process.
While I’m aware that there are deep-rooted issues that cause workplace stress and these can’t be solved with a simple guide, you can avoid throwing yourself off the deep end by knowing better than believing in whatever your potential employer says.
These not-so-little white lies they tell you during interviews (or you see in job listings) can greatly impact your work attitude and productivity. So, let’s collectively call them “job application red flags,” a.k.a. corporate promises of great work culture and employee development that usually only end up as bogus statements.
“We’re like a family here”
Right, a family. That totally makes sense because you’d probably see your workmates’ faces more than your own biological family due to a shit ton of work.
But seriously, as much as “family” has a nice ring to it, fostering this kind of work culture can be toxic. Once you treat your colleagues like how you do your family, you could develop an irrational sense of obligation to make your superiors (a.k.a. your “work parents”) proud. In some sense, this can result in power-tripping—particularly when they ask you for “favors” like working unreasonable hours or taking on projects that are beyond your job description. And it’d be hard to say no because who would want to disappoint their family, right?
So, for Chicago-based leadership development trainer Joshua Luna, it might be better to look for a company that prides itself on being a “team” that shares a common goal. Besides, building positive employee relations takes a lot more than just saying you’re a “family.” Although it could be really nice to have colleagues you can count on like you would a sibling, it’s still better to work in an environment where boundaries are set clearly.
“We work hard and play hard”
Don’t be fooled. This statement can just be a code for “We’re a bunch of hard-drinking, no-sleeping workaholics who live for the weekend” where “hard-drinking” refers to two things: coffee (to get you through an extremely busy day while running on an hour of sleep) or booze (to cope with the stress of your job).
For the record, though, not every employer lies about this. Some take genuine care of their employees’ well-being by regularly initiating activities that allow them to unwind and feel good about their work (such as free wellness classes, recreational and/or sports events with voluntary participation, and provision of mental health days off, among others). Now, if the company you’re applying to hasn’t implemented any similar initiatives, you better start reassessing your career decisions because checking off this box could mean you’re signing up for potential overwork.
Well, unless your definition of “play hard” is an all-expenses-paid team building after several breakdowns in the office restroom and free pizza during lunch—then sure, accept the offer.
“We’re looking for a self-starter”
Everybody loves a self-starter. Someone who gets their shit done with little to no supervision? Sounds like *the* ideal candidate, if you ask me. But the term has eventually become a buzzword most employers use to sugarcoat the fact that they don’t have enough people to train and guide you during your probationary period. In other words, you would most likely need to figure things out on your own from the first day on the job.
An employer looking for a “self-starter” could also mean that the position you’re applying for has no scope and limitations. There would be no concrete indication of what your responsibilities cover, heightening the risk of exploitation. By not being clear about the job description, you might be required to do work that’s not aligned with your job title and, in turn, hurt your performance.
But hey, if you’re totally confident that you can thrive in such environments, we won’t stop you from trying them out. If you think that the job would give you more autonomy instead of just waiting for someone to assign tasks, go for it. Just remember to always ask for relevant information from your potential employer before signing up. That’s the least you could do to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.
Art by Yel Sayo