Like buying a new house, landing a new job is generally cause for celebration. Yet, just as those who thought they bought the perfect home may uncover unpleasant surprises after moving in, so, too, can the new employee. Usually the discontent is not over compensation, as the worker knew that part of the job before accepting. Rather, it’s over the discovery of more psychological factors. And when these hidden aspects of the job come to light, that apparently perfect job suddenly seems all wrong.
What discoveries can cause disillusionment in a new worker? Perhaps she discovers the boss is a tyrant or her colleague is a back-stabber. Perhaps he finds he has little influence over his work or favouritism runs rampant through the office.
Research shows that workers tend not to stay at a job for the salary or benefits alone. They stay because they find the workplace psychologically healthy. Deciding before accepting a job offer whether the workplace is a healthy place to be can be as important as impressing the interview panel.
If a job hunter is attuned to some of the subtleties of organizational psychological health, he or she can identify the signs of a healthy workplace. These five tips help prospective applicants decide if the organization values workers’ psychological health.
1. Look for a collaborative workplace.
Interviewees can ask questions during job interviews, observe interviewer dynamics and listen to the kinds of questions they are asked to determine the degree of collaboration in the organization. Asking current and past employees about the organization can be informative as well. Healthy organizations value transparency where workers can speak openly to one another, and their supervisors, and where issues are addressed and when concerns are raised, there is no retaliation permitted. One way to ascertain the degree of collaboration existing in an organization is to ask: “If I have an idea about a process or procedure that could help the organization, how would you like me to proceed in offering my suggestion?
Another question is: “And what happens to employee suggestions after they are made?” The way the interviewer answers this question is instructive, if the organization values suggestions and has a procedure for following-up on employee concerns/suggestions, it values employer- employee collaboration.
2. Find a worksite that seeks your involvement.
Organizations that involve employees in the running of the business are healthy. Observe whether employees are encouraged to understand business plans, budgets and strategic initiatives. Note if workers are included in business planning where appropriate and find out what kind of staff input gets implemented. For example, companies that create committees to look at processes and then implement the recommendations, value staff involvement. Find out if performance evaluations are collaborative (employees are included in the process) by asking about the review process.
3. Look for health-oriented policies and programs.
Read the employee handbook thoroughly. Observe if the benefits, plans, policies and approaches to employee well- being fit worker needs, are accessible, and used by staff. Ask if people use the programs and the best way to find out about them. If people are using the policies and can find out about them easily, this can indicate that the organization supports employee health.
Look for family-friendly policies that provide flex-time, alternate work arrangements (work-from-home provisions) and access to an effective and well-trained EAP provider. Be conscious of the number of hours the organization expects people to work, ask about what happens in the organization when there is a crunch time – is there much overtime, for example? These are indicators of the company’s expectations regarding an employee’s home-work balance.
What wellness policies, such as fitness programs or smoking cessation incentives are offered? What is the company safety record, how do they handle safety issues, and is there an active safety committee at the job-site?
Are employees encouraged to develop or are they left to their own devices? Healthy organizations have provision for career advancement and guidance as well as identifiable career tracks. Training programs, lunch-and-learn opportunities and the like, indicate a commitment to employee growth. Look for an interest in leader development on the part of the organization—if managers and supervisors are encouraged to grow, they will be better leaders and more likely to value employee development as well.
4. Get some facts.
Some of the healthiest workplaces survey their staff, document the benefits of their wellness initiatives and are proud of their track record in terms of turnover rate, absenteeism, job satisfaction and worker engagement. Companies that make it a mission to be an employer of choice are a good bet. Asking about employee surveys and how the information is used is one way of identifying how important psychological health is to an organization. Discovering how long employees generally stay at the company is important. People tend to stay where they feel respected, happy and productive.
5. Trust your gut.
If you find yourself reluctant to ask about performance evaluation protocols, wellness initiatives or staff turnover rates, etc., this could be a warning sign. Companies that truly value their employees are happy to provide information to a keen recruit. If the company relies heavily on overtime, either paid or unpaid, to handle the workload, if the atmosphere in the building is tense, or you witness an interaction that makes you uncomfortable—beware. Trusting your instincts can help you avoid making the wrong decision or point you towards a healthy employer.
Employers signal their interest in and commitment to promoting employee psychological health in a variety of ways –through their employee handbooks, publications, web sites, advertising, the causes they support and the kinds of awards they receive.
Job hunting doesn’t just involve knowing the company or having the right interview answers. It means asking some questions of your own. So, before making a commitment to a new employer, consider the health of the organization. Your own may depend on it.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.