Professional Community and the Toxic Workplace
I hear all the time about how professionals should take care of what they post to social media. Business HR departments and hiring managers are going through search engines to determine if someone could be a problem employee. This may be true, though I doubt it is often the deciding factor in hiring most professionals. Even at that, it is probably prudent to avoid posting how wasted you got last weekend and the photos of wild drunken orgies if at all possible.
In most cases, those looking for work at businesses are also searching and gathering information on prospective businesses. This can be tough since there is not a lot out there for most businesses except marketing materials. Even if you find something, you can’t really use the information since many toxic environments are hidden behind layers of management. Two departments in the same business can have startling differences of climate.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to find out what it is like to work at a company. What isn’t discussed often is the grapevine that is part of many fields. These fields are most often highly specialized and technical, but don’t have to be. People in the field develop an underground communication network which allows them to find out details that businesses have been able to hide in the past. The new social media and networking systems have allowed people from vast distances to almost instantaneously find out when a business unit has a poor employee climate. What was once a void for information is now very widely known.
For example, a business wants to hire a software developer in a very specialized language and platform. This field most likely has mailing lists, blogs, events, user groups, and conferences devoted to this technology. Many people involved in the field get to know each other personally and virtually. This happens to the point where a community develops and trust within the community becomes high. This means that those in the community have resources that have only been available within academia and a few other professions up to that last decade.
A business that has treated employees in that field poorly in the past may find that they may have difficulty in attracting the caliber of applicant that they want. The hiring manager may be surprised to find out that people who would have applied for positions are seeking work elsewhere. They also may find applicants who know a great deal about the climate within the business and ask uncomfortable questions.
So businesses who allow toxic environments to fester will find that they have more difficulty hiring and keeping the top applicants if they are in a very specialized field. It behooves businesses and managers to be very aware of the climate in their organization and fix the climate when they detect a problem. Unfortunately, perceptions can take a long time to fix long after the toxic environment has been fixed.