Will your future employer work you to death?
How to assess workplace culture before accepting a job offer
If you have a young family, an important avocation or hobby, or otherwise just want to leave work at 5pm and not work weekends and evenings, it’s important to find a way to investigate the culture of a future employer before accepting a new job. (In fact, this post could be about any other factor that is important for you to know about before accepting a job, but which might be delicate to ask about directly, like whether the employer has a good culture of respecting people of diverse backgrounds or sexual preferences–i.e. isn’t a bunch of racists or bigots; would accomodate a disability; or would accomodate your religious observances).
Of course, if you are simply in need of an income and willing to make some sacrifices, you might set work-life balance (or other similar issues) aside when considering job offers. But for anyone who can make actual choices about which jobs to accept, it’s worth knowing whether your future employer will expect you to work nights and weekends. However, just asking the question can be a toughie. If you ask about work-life balance, will you ruin your chances of being considered for a job? Will you set an impression that you are a slacker, unwilling to work hard?
There are a number of ways to find out about an employer’s expectations without directly asking the question. And if you do choose to ask, there are ways to do so without waving a red flag.
HOW TO FIND OUT WITHOUT ASKING
* Sometimes it’s easy it guess a job requires long hours just by reading the job description. Warning signs include “occassional nights and weekends required”; “40% travel during specific seasons”; “must be able to work in fast-paced, multi-tasking environment and adapt to short deadlines without notice”; “able to handle pressure and stress.”
* Some jobs are just known to have long hours. Even doing a little rudimentary research into a profession should tell you that it has long hours, and if you have to ask whether the job has long hours, it proves you are a total newbie to the field. Investment banking, for instance, tends to always have long hours. Accountants in public accounting firms have busy seasons with 60+ hours per week being a well-known norm. Tax preparers have a busy season before tax day. Management consulting is another one known for longer hours. In the world of college career services, the person who runs an on-campus recruiting program for a college with 300+ schedules of on-campus interviews will be working long hours for at least 3 months per year, and anyone in the field knows this is likely to be the norm. Of course, there are exceptions, with certain employers making an effort to help balance the hours for people in these jobs, but in general certain job functions or professions just almost always have long hours.
* Some employers or organizations have a reputation for long hours. You can assess this through networking and talking with people in the organization or in other related organizations; and you can now find out a lot about an organization by reading reviews of it on glassdoor.com, vault.com or other third-party organization review sites.
* Networking with people in an organization can provide revelatory information, especially if you have a chance to talk to the person who previously held a position you are interviewing for. If you can sleuth your way into finding out the name of the predecessor, or even ask the employer (once you are in final rounds for the position, perhaps) whether you could talk to that person, it would be very helpful.
* If none of your research reveals anything specific about the job or organization you’re considering, you have one more option. You can ask the employer, directly or indirectly, about work-life balance. However, it is very important that you ask this within the bounds of etiquette and don’t raise red flags. For example, if you mention you want good work-life balance too soon in the process, you will come across as someone who is asking for favors or accomodations before you’ve proven your worth. Instead, focus on selling yourself in the early stages of the process.
Later in the hiring process–such as during second round interviews or perhaps once you’ve been offered the job but before you have decided whether to accept it– you can ask some questions. How you ask is essential. Rather than asking directly about work-life balance, you might ask about the company culture, about the typical day on the job (including when the day starts and ends), or about whether the job has any particular seasons that are busier or more challenging than others. These questions have a much more neutral tone as opposed to more needy-sounding questions like “Can you tell me about how family-friendly this job is?” or “Can you tell me about the work-life balance of this job” or even “Will I be able to leave work at 5pm to pick up my kid from day care?” Any more neutral ways of assessing the job will be helpful.
Of course, if you are in a position where you simply cannot work late except under specific circumstances, and especially if you are willing to turn down a job if the hours don’t fit, you may just want to point-blank reveal to an employer that these are your circumstances. Ideally, an employer won’t discriminate against you just because you want work-life balance, are a parent, etc. and perhaps you simply don’t want to work for an employer that would discriminate. But with the many other ways to ask the question that are less confrontational, you can hopefully find a suitable employer without also putting yourself out of the running for the job.
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