5 Signs a Company Doesn’t Actually Have a “Cool” Culture


Free beer, flexible hours, espresso machine banter: have you just found your dream job?

Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that the “cool” perks offered at a new company aren’t just smoke and mirrors hiding their toxic (or just plain ordinary) work environment.

Tech companies have made great inroads in changing outdated work code formalities, but some cross the line into unpleasant or dangerous (sometimes even illegal) territory.

Ask these 5 questions to determine whether a company’s culture is actually as great as it seems at first glance:


1. Do they play fast and loose with the law?

A playful atmosphere can allow creativity to flow, and no one daydreams about spending day after day in humorless cubicle.

But keep in mind that there’s no inherent contradiction between an enjoyable work environment and following state and federal laws, and company leadership that ignores the law can be a sign of real trouble.

Take Zenefits for example, a startup that nearly collapsed as a result of this kind of irresponsibility: “This philosophy manifested in reckless behaviors, encouraged by leadership, including lying to potential clients about the company’s products and dodging state insurance regulations.

Executives spent their time and money focused on massive fundraising and sales growth, rather than mapping a balanced trajectory for long-term sustainability.”

Make sure there are clear protocols for protecting customers’ and employees’ privacy, ensuring employee safety, and reporting harassment or discrimination.


2. Do they value results over the humans creating the results?

As advanced as a company is, human beings are still at the helm of any company’s innovations.

Which means that there will inevitably be human events affecting employees. Check to see how empathetic company culture is when employees have to take time to deal with a family emergency or sickness, or take parental leave to care for a new baby.

These ups and downs are part of life, and your company should value the people working there every day to make it a success.


3. Is there a solid business plan?

A good business plan sets out a clear vision, has transparent and measurable KPIs, and leadership that knows how to follow through on well-laid plans.

This means hiring talented staff at all levels (including the receptionist), and not just relying on the smarts and charisma of a few leaders with a good idea and cutting corners in other areas.

Ask about how the company plans to grow over the next five years, who the investors are, and where you fit into the plan.


4. Is technology being used to everyone’s benefit?

Technological tools can simplify every area of work, from facilitating communication between employees through gamification programs to reward employees for workplace achievements.

However, some of these same tools can create added competition, stress, or contribute to a “big brother” culture of monitoring or micromanagement.

Steven Widen, a Forbes Agency Council contributor, put it this way: “If organizations are not careful about how gamification is used at work, it can feel like coercion instead of fun.

When the fun goes out of the game, employees’ performance can be hampered.”

Make sure that the company uses technology to employees’ advantage, and to promote creativity.


5. Is collaboration truly encouraged?

Examine the formal and informal power dynamics for clues as to whether employees at all levels are encouraged to exchange ideas.

Will you be listened to and rewarded when you come up with a new way of doing something?

Look for indicators such as diversity among company leadership and the values they espouse. Get a sense for how employees mention the company on social media, and whether their LinkedIn profiles reflect a sense of pride in their work there.

When seeking a job, it can be tempting to overlook some of these culture indicators in favor of the benefits and perks on paper. However, software engineers working in toxic environments attest to how negatively the work culture affects them over time.

Do you recognize any of these culture flaws at your tech company? If so, join Woo.io to discreetly find a different job, with a healthy work culture you can feel good about.