Best Way To Learn Work Environment Before Accepting New Job?

Dear J.T. & Dale: My husband and I both have worked in high tech for more than 20 years. With all the stress from outsourcing and reorgs and overly aggressive management, we feel like Lucy and Ethel in that famous “I Love Lucy” episode where the assembly line keeps gets cranked up faster and faster. We’ve been investigating alternative careers, but none of the resources we’ve used addresses how the work environment fits into the picture. We fear making a career change that ends up trapping us in a new toxic environment. — Kathy

J.T.: I have to be honest: I think all industries have ratcheted up the demands on employees — it’s the reality of business in America.

Dale: Yes … globalization means that your job is put out into the worldwide bidding war — you compete for your job with people whose monthly cost of living is less than your car payment. So one solution is to seek jobs that can’t be outsourced; however, that then brings us bang-on against another reality: Intensified competition in every corner of the economy forces management to keep increasing productivity, which means we’re right back to Lucy and Ethel working the assembly line.

J.T.: Rather than look for a different industry, your best hope is to find an organization whose culture is aligned with yours. The best way to do that is to interview an employer as much as he or she interviews you. See how he or she answers the tough questions, such as: “What are the biggest challenges the company faces, and how does a person in my role help overcome them?” “What are the three most important attributes an employee needs, and why?”

Dale: Having spent nearly two decades researching great bosses, I’m pleased to report that there still are a few true leaders working to create great workplaces. For instance, there’s Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller in St. Louis, who goes so far as to keep asking his managers: “When employees get home, what do they say about their day at work? Do they go home happy?” The culture of an organization is more about the leadership than about the industry.

J.T.: As you search for an enlightened organization, you might consider creating your own. Some companies are still cutting overhead by encouraging telecommuting, which means that employees provide their own workspace by working at home. Others are outsourcing work to freelancers. You’ll have to be self-managing, and that may give you sympathy for the job of being a manager in the new economy.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of Dale Dauten’s latest book is “(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success” (John Wiley & Sons). Please visit them at, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2009 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

2 Responses

  1. The People Group — The culture of an organization is more about the leadership than about the industry Says:

    [...] only to take a position inside another toxic culture?  There was an interesting column recently in J.T. & Dale’s Talk Jobs column that addressed this very issue.  The question was asked how to avoid taking a job in a toxic [...]

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