How to Choose a Good Employer

and weed out toxic workplaces

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Even if you think it’s not relevant to you, DEIB is a strong indicator of how an organization cares for its people. It doesn’t matter the size; an early stage organization with 5 people can copy paste some best practices and guidelines. Such as a Zero-tolerance harassment policy, or KPIs for diversity hires. Here are a few signs that an organization takes DEIB (and employee wellness) seriously:

  • Promoted employee resource groups or committees
  • Proactive accommodations for employee belonging
  • Active and enforced policies, protocols and guidelines
  • New initiatives and iterations at least quarterly


Employee retention, where employees choose to stay with their current company and not take other job prospects, is an important indicator of the health of an organization. The top reason people quit their job is a toxic work culture. Second to low pay. In any case, employee exploitation is a common theme amongst organizations with high churn rates. Some things to look for:

  • A churn healthy rate is about 10–15% (are they transparent about it?)
  • Look at who’s quitting, is it an organization-wide issue?
  • Do they have demonstrated internal promotions and growth opportunities for junior & mid level staff?

Strategy and Goals

Effective leaders know that in order to achieve their vision, there needs to be alignment within the organization. At minimum there should be a clear strategy set to a timeline with direct indications for each team’s goals. Many organizations have values or a mission in lieu of a quantifiable way forward. Here are some questions for clarity:

  • How does the organizational mission translate into the strategy?
  • What are the team / department goals for the next month, quarter, two years?
  • What KPIs are you using to measure success?

Roadmap or Prioritization

A major role of leadership is to set a roadmap or a prioritization of projects and work responsibilities. Too often, managers lean on “rapidly changing” or “urgency” as reasons for not setting priorities or changing the roadmap mid project. This leads to unhealthy working styles which create environments of toxic stress and shifting expectations. Even a startup which is innovating and developing should focus on proactive vs reactive work. Ask your potential manager how they approach their team’s goals:

  • Putting out fires vs developing and implementing strategy
  • Managing unexpected complexity or failure in goals
  • Communicating and mitigating board/funders/leadership changing expectations


Accountability in the workplace means that all employees are responsible for their actions, behaviors, performance and decisions. Unfortunately, every workplace has some folks who shift this responsibility to others. One main source of toxic stress comes from expectations to over perform, and having to bear the weight of other’s ineffective decisions or inappropriate behaviors. Accountability is more than written protocols and KPIs, look for the following:

  • Biannual 2 way performance reviews; managers should be receiving your feedback too
  • Job descriptions for the entire team and map of how it all fits together
  • Ask for an example of how the organization managed the last instance of lack of accountability

Project Management

Even in the home, project management is an important tool we use to manage our time and resources. To stay healthy and balanced at work, we need to understand constraints, stakeholders, inter-dependencies and trackers to know how our projects are going and how to get them done. Just like roadmaps and goals, leaders and managers need to have robust project management plans and tools in place for themselves and their teams. Some things to examine are:

  • Are there specific objectives, fixed timelines and success indications for each project?
  • How does the organization do project management? Tools? Is it widely adapted?
  • How is communication around the project process done? Meetings, emails etc?
  • Does the organization have reviews or retrospectives at the end of each project?
  • A rushed interview process
  • Questions about how you handle stress, prioritization or work life balance
  • Questions about how you adapt to company values or culture



People and Culture Expert for Equitable and Progressive Work

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