A Good Employer Is Hard To Find

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I’ve read many articles here on LinkedIn that delve into the psychology of why employees leave employers. Most focus on a lack of management, but after years in the workforce and more than my fair share of poor management, I’m starting to take a closer look at the employer as a whole – something I should have been doing from the start but simply didn’t realize was necessary until now.

Let’s face it, the economy is still lending itself to an “employer’s market” where employers are almost afraid to post their jobs because of the frenzy of applicants that pounce on every opportunity (even when they have absolutely no qualification for the position). The result has been years of taking the first offer without really looking at the employer themselves. I understand why: it’s hard to be critical of the hand that feeds when you’re hungry. I’ve always been more cautious of where I spend my time as a volunteer than of my future employer.

Most recently, I was let go because of an unexpected injury. I suffered a concussion and whiplash after having blood drawn and fainting… twice. While I’ve been battling with insurance companies, suffering through (what I consider to be) torture by vestibular and vision therapists, and trying to be patient while my central brain heals from this traumatic brain injury, my last employer was hiring my replacement and packed up my desk. Being the top performer in my department at a company that preaches being “outstanding” and “exceptional” with their employees, I thought I had finally found a good employer and was shocked to be kicked to the curb.

This termination, like the tragic ending to all of my foot-in-the-door employment opportunities, was something outside of my control. And I consider myself to be an asset of an employee – Summa Cum Laude from a reputable university, nothing but amazing things said about me on reviews, and frequently the favorite among customers and clients. Check out my LinkedIn profile if you don’t believe me. So why will I once again be perusing the Help Wanted section?

Because a good employer is hard to find.

Here are some of the red flags I’ve learned (the hard way) to look for:

  • Friends and Family – Working for spouses is never a good situation for an employee. They may have their lovers’ quarrels and try to bring the drama into the office or, even worse, suck you into the fray. Working for a family is even worse as you’ll never receive adequate credit for your qualities, skills, and achievements. Working for families also means you’ll be passed-up for every opportunity for growth and pay so that the family members can get it. And yes, even the CEO’s sister-in-law with no qualification to do anything at the company will be paid better than you.
  • Employer-Centric Human Resources – When HR is never in your corner, you’ll have no one to turn to for help. Yes, HR needs to protect the company from many sticky legal situations, but they also have an incredible responsibility to you, the employee. If they don’t have an “Open Door” policy and genuinely want to go to bat for an employee, you’ve got no reason to work there. Your loyalty is worth absolutely nothing without an HR person or department in your corner.
  • Benefits Offers that are Not in Writing – I’ve seen more people be burned by this one than times I’ve been burned myself, but that’s because I request things in writing as a rule of life. A bad employer will tell you they offer a 401k, but “fail” to mention that it doesn’t start until a full year has gone by, or that they offer all of these amazing benefits (health, vision, dental…) but that you pay for everything, essentially taking a big chunk out of your take-home pay. An employee will take that leap of faith and fall right on their face. Once, I was promised to start with two weeks of vacation on the books along with several other new employees. We were on-boarded together and all heard the same words. When I saw it wasn’t on the contract, I asked about it. I had to put my foot down when they kept saying I’d get it, but also kept refusing to write it into the contract. Of that group of employees, I was the only one who actually got the vacation time. They all complained, but none of them had it in writing.
  • No 10 Year Plan – I have lost jobs to a business owner who wanted to close her business to have kids, to renovations that were planned for years, to companies moving out of state, to businesses being sold, to departments being closed… every one in the book it seems. Why? Because when I started they didn’t have a plan. Being ‘a leaf on the wind’ is great if you’re a pilot, but it doesn’t work in business. Sometimes, a bad employer will have a long-term plan and know that it won’t include you, but also won’t be honest and tell you. If you’re looking for a real career like people used to have, where they worked at the same company for 30 years and then retired, you won’t be able to grow your roots with a company that doesn’t have a clearly defined plan for at least the next 10 years.

From these hard-won lessons, I’ve developed a short list of questions that should be asked at your next interview:

  • How did you first start with this company?
  • Were you promoted into or hired into your current position?
  • What was the last promotion from within you know of at the company? How did they earn it?
  • What’s the CEO’s relationship with the Directors like?
  • Do a lot of the staff spend time together outside of work?
  • If you were to have an issue with a coworker, who would you take it to and how would they handle it?
  • Where do you see your position in the next 10 years?
  • What is on the horizon for company growth?
  • Will you be making a formal offer of employment in writing?
  • Do you perform exit interviews? If so, have you ever acted upon any of the suggestions made for improvement by departing employees?

I would also encourage asking questions that test the character of your potential new manager to make sure they align with your personality traits in the right way. You’ll be working closely with this person and you want to be able to tolerate them at the very least. I gave up a long time ago on finding a manager I could actually look up to. It seems no company wants to pay to train a manager so that they know how to manage.

So instead of focusing on why employees leave employers, I’d love to see more research on why employees choose the wrong employer from the start. An ounce of prevention is worth years of stress-induced headaches.