should I warn job candidates about how bad my company is?

A reader writes:

I’m currently wrapping up a job of many years. While my major reason for leaving was wanting to change professions, I’ve been looking for the past year due to job dissatisfaction and problems with senior management. Honestly, I stuck around longer than I should have because I really enjoyed my team members and the very flexible work schedule.

My dissatisfaction with the job stems from the fact I absorbed the work of two and a half people and was refused any help after speaking up. The problems with upper management are potentially more worrisome: staff not paid on time for close to four years (although we’ve been paid on time since the pandemic started), we frequently don’t receive reimbursements for months at a time (at one point my coworker was owed close to $2,000), and employees have had to fight for basic equipment to do their job (like laptops).

I’m leaving on great terms despite my less-than-stellar experience. The company has posted my job description online and I’ve had people approach me for more details about the position, mostly but not entirely acquaintances or people I have worked with previously.

How up-front can I be about the issues the position and the company have? I know it’s usually frowned upon to talk poorly about an employer, but I would feel guilty hiding this information from a potential replacement. For the record — despite all this, there are a couple of really fantastic benefits that I can talk about regarding the job, so it wouldn’t just be all doom and gloom!

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Sharon558*

    This is helpful – but what do you do if you’re hiring and DON’T plan on leaving the company? Can you still use the same tactics if you plan on hiring someone under you, but are staying on with the organization?

  2. learnedthehardway*

    I would be careful about how much you disclose to people inquiring about the role you are vacating.

    For total strangers, I would stick to directing them to the careers site or forward a copy of the job posting. You don’t owe those people any details, and I would be diplomatic about why you are leaving. After all, you can’t control what they do with information you give them, and you don’t want to burn a bridge with your soon-to-be past management (aka future references).

    For acquaintances, it may be best to phrase a response in terms of “a candidate who would do well in this role is someone who brings a capacity for a high workload and demanding timelines in a fast-paced, high-travel environment,” and whatever else you think would be needed from the person. Be truthful, but let people read between the lines.

    Best yet, write up a review on Glassdoor, if you really feel compelled to comment on specifics like this company is demon-possessed and delinquent in payroll. You can post anonymously, and tell the truth without it blowing back on you personally.

    1. TCO*

      I think the fact that employees don’t get paid on time is a really big deal and maybe deserves less discretion than other elements of a challenging workplace. It’s hard enough to have a tough boss or relentless deadlines; it’s even worse when you’re not even getting paid on time. That would put a lot of people in a really difficult position since most of us work for the purpose of getting paid.

      OP should find a way to discreetly disclose that to acquaintances and friends, at a minimum.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        TCO, I agree. Some people might have strategies to successful work around difficult bosses, a higher workload, drawn out processes, or having to go to bat for every single little thing, but would absolutely not be okay with delayed payment. I have bills to pay, and I need a paycheck on time.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, it’s subjective, I agree. FirstJob was a terrible fit for me, but it might work for others (and the benefits were good). I found, too, people won’t usually take a recommendation of “It’s trash fire, run” well, especially if it’s a job they’re really interested in. I usually found giving an objective take of what the job actually entails and saying why it didn’t work for me works best.

      2. Observer*

        Yeah. That’s a different category than the others stuff.

        For one, it’s illegal. It’s also a significant indicator of financial problems. On top of which, it’s a different kind of problem altogether. Someone who NEEDS a job, any job, might take it with all of the other problems. But that kind of person probably can’t afford to take a job that doesn’t pay on time.

      3. KateM*

        Yeah, one should really include “candidate who’d do well in this role is someone with a lot of savings”.

      4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I agree, because this is an institutional issue. Many companies that tolerate, or overlook, or fail to recognise, a bad boss or excessive workload* wouldn’t DREAM of paying people late. That’s really crossing a line.

        * These things have a degree of subjectivity and can slide from acceptable to terrible. Late salaries are … definitively late. There’s no wiggle room or space for interpretation on this point.

      5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Yes. This isn’t something along the lines of micro or mismanagement like, they insist everyone attend a weekly three hour meeting. Or, something flat out obnoxious, like if you are late for a meeting you have to apologize to everyone when you walk in.
        This is a fact. This isn’t illegal, but it sucks. It shows they don’t care about their people or
        their reputation. They are using other people’s money for business expenses.
        Can you say something like, “at my next job, I’m hoping that office purchases go directly on a corporate card, because employees basically float loans to the company.” or “I will make sure that I will be given a laptop/peripherals/phone etc, so I don’t have to use my own.” These are things I didn’t ask about in my interview for this job and they became a problem.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            I am perversely hoping it really is and they get in trouble. That’s ridiculous.
            But I remembered the woman who worked the front desk somewhere who had to fill petty cash from her own money. Like keeping a minimum of $200 daily and did she get repaid? Anyone remember?

            1. MayLou*

              But that was different – she was being paid her salary, but one of the job requirements was carrying around a specific amount of cash each day. I think that’s a ridiculous job requirement, but I also think that wearing a suit is a ridiculous job requirement (which is why I don’t work in the kind of industry that requires suits). It isn’t illegal to have ridiculous job requirements. It is illegal not to pay people for their work.

      6. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Agreed. If I were considering a job and heard “You don’t always get paid on time,” that would be a deal-breaker right there. Is there a term more emphatic than “deal-breaker?” Deal-smasher? Deal-annihilator? Destructor of Deals?

        If a company can’t even get paychecks out on time, there is no possible way they are not dysfunctional in a thousand other ways as well.

    2. Omninous Adversary*

      On the other hand by using corpspeak to disguise the real problems with the job, OP is going to be burning bridges with anyone who takes the job and finds out the hard way. It’s easy to say they’re just acquaintances so who cares, but people in the same line of work have a funny way of running into each other again down the road.

      One technique that really gets people to read between the lines is to say that you’re afraid you can’t discuss work in detail because you don’t want to burn any bridges. That’s an unmistakeable signal that the job is a bad one.

      1. Reba*

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to hold this (employee discretion/applicant finding out the hard way) against somebody though, at least not to the degree that “burning bridges” suggests to me. Sure, you would *wish* that people would be frank when you are trying to investigate the job, but full candor is not something you can really expect across the board.

        But yeah, I agree that when you can say to someone “I signed a non-disparagement clause when I left” it does speak volumes.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’d seriously side-eye any acquaintance that neglected to mention that the company often didn’t get payroll out on time. I could handle skipping talking about more environment/culture things. But not letting me know a company couldn’t meet a basic requirement of me giving them my time? No.

        2. A*

          I would absolutely hold it against somebody, and possibly considered it a bridge burned, if I found out they knew about the pay and reimbursement issues OP describes and did not tell me when I asked about the job. That is a huge problem in a totally different category from “normal” workplace toxicity imo.

          1. Ominous Adversary*

            Yep. Not giving a full run-down about every negative aspect of the job is one thing. But using platitudes to avoid mentioning the company has a FOUR YEAR history of not paying people on time?

          2. Reba*

            Oh yeah, to be clear, my comment was meant in a more general way and I agree that not paying people promptly is a more clear-cut situation than general bad vibes or challenging workplace stuff. It’s illegal!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Reminder that it’s pretty easy to trace back Glassdoor reviews even though they’re posted “anonymously”. I wouldn’t put anything on the internet you’re not comfortable putting your name on.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I see you haven’t seen the AAM stories that have been traced back to the original writer before. It happens, welcome to the internet where people are amateur detectives. Especially if they already know you worked there, it’s even easier depending on the size of the company.

          Stories line up.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I wonder if you know of some I don’t know about. I think I only know of two times it’s happened here in 13 years. (But there are a LOT of times when people say something like “I think I know where you work” about letters that could apply to zillions of workplaces, so I think people overestimate the likelihood.)

            It’s more of a concern with Glassdoor, where it’s easier to identify you if it’s a small team (and thus a much smaller universe of suspects).

        2. anastaziad*

          Smaller company…you an often just figure it about by job title, current or former employee, and the particular comments and insights.

          1. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

            Those can be fudged, I think. If the concerns are due to the specific position, then no, but one can just list the department, and not be quite truthful about start and end dates to hide their identity.

            I worked for a company with a toxic structure (I actually had a nightmare that I had to call my old boss the other night). Employees who have been there long term (who benefit from nepotism, mostly) are often asked to write glowing reviews. As a result, their rating is hovering around 4. In the year I was at the company my department of 20 people had a 40% turnover rate, unrealistic deadlines, managers who had no idea how to manage, management with no other management experience anywhere else, management who would scream at employees… the list goes on. Someone would need to read between the lines though, and take the negative reviews seriously, in order to suss out the issues.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            Yes, of course if you give away too many details that would readily identify you at a smaller company, people might figure it out.

            I thought maybe Becky Lynch meant it was traceable via email or was secretly visible to employers or something.

        3. Mel_05*

          Glass Door wants to know the position and department you worked in to let you post a review. If I’m the *only* teapot painter in the company, it’ll be pretty clear who wrote it.

          1. Elfie*

            I’ve left negative reviews on GlassDoor – you have to fill in the information, but you don’t have to be specific. I have often been the only one of my position, so I just put I work in IT. I also leave it at least six months after leaving (often longer) before posting, so that the review and my leaving aren’t associated immediately. Maybe that’s not as helpful as putting my actual position, but if I’m reporting that the CIO is a sexist pig and only white men can get ahead in the company, I’m protecting myself as much as I can whilst still doing my PSA for potential applicants!

      1. Firecat*

        There’s that, which I don’t think is particularly easy but certainly happens; and the fact that if you post specific incidents the company can and has successfully sued glassdoor for your name.

        I was going to post a GD review naming some of the specific sexist and racist behaviors I’ve witnessed, but I saw glassdoors post about being careful to only include opinions.

        So it’s fine to say – I think magement is horrible and it’s not a great place for women to work. The leadership is untrustworthy.

        But if you were to post a review like:
        The CFO called me his slave, I saw the COO slap a subordinates rear, and HR took my raise away the day after I started the new role… Well those can be considered libel and companies have successfully litigated glassdoor to reveal the name, even if they don’t ultimately sue the writer for libel.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        “I wouldn’t put anything on the internet you’re not comfortable putting your name on.”

        This is exactly why I made the decision over twenty years ago to use my real name on the internet. I’m not proud of everything I have ever posted, but using my real name forces me to rein in my worst impulses.

    4. Smithy*

      It certainly depends on how someone is using the term acquaintance – because professionally I have a number of “professional network acquaintances” that I don’t know closely but do want to keep the relationship warm/friendly. In that sense, I do think that it’s good to keep in mind that often people will take less great jobs because it affords them more money, bigger titles, working at a more prestigious place, the ability to move to a new place, the ability to stay in a place, etc etc.

      But knowing upfront those key pain points is really important. Not that the place needs to be presented as entirely on fire, but payments coming late is a very different issue than “the boss is a yeller”. Different people will rank those issues are more/less problematic and if there’s a goal of keeping them in your professional network – I strongly recommend giving them enough information to get it.

    5. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      A job that doesn’t pay on time is an organization run by thieves. Keeping the bridge standing is more likely to harm your reputation in the long run.

    6. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Our most recent hire did their homework, including looking us up on Glassdoor. I think that’s a good start for this. If it were someone I knew, I’d be moderately upfront with them. I reached out to an old coworker about a job and was glad for the candor which allowed me to make an informed decision. But they also didn’t use the inquiry as a confessional. I would find a way to say, “Business expenses are reimbursed slowly, so I would avoid making those kinds of purchases unless you can float for a few months.”

    7. OP*

      Thank you for your advice. I seriously thought about leaving a truthful Glassdoor review, but my company is small enough where it could reasonably get traced back to me. Ironically, my company’s Glassdoor page is filled with 5-star reviews from senior management.

  3. Jady*

    Glad to see this advice. I learned this lesson in a bit of unfortunate way.

    We hired a really nice guy who ended up working very closely with me. I didn’t think to talk about the high pressure, fast paced environment during the interview with him. It was definitely not a job you expected to be high pressure. I think part of the reason why is that it was just normalized to me, every company I’d worked for was like that. (And shouldn’t be. It was all due to terrible upper management and people making promises they couldn’t keep).

    This poor man stopped sleeping, would sweat his clothes wet on deadlines or when he struggled with something, was having nightmares and there was some reading between the lines that he got medicated to handle it. He quit within the year.

    I felt terrible, he was so nice and he did really good work, but that job was killing him.

    After that I was very careful to be clear about the negatives of the job. (Sometimes I wonder if I exposed too much, but it never got back to the company thankfully.) We lost a LOT of candidates because of that, so many even my my manager got frustrated over it.

    But my god I didn’t want to do that to another person.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Please don’t shoulder so much blame about his situation. I have seen many people who crack under pressure but they will never steer clear, even if you put a big blinking “we work at breakneck speeds here” signs everywhere.

      Maybe he would have taken your warnings but most likely, he would have thought he could still hack it.

      I’ve told people point blank what to expect from my former positions. Including the workload and expectations, nobody backed out graciously. Everyone who took it, was sure they were the best person for the job and it sounded fantastic. The ones who weren’t fired within a month, lasted less than a year. I hear a lot of “I didn’t realize you weren’t over hyping and that you were serious…” [I’m extra but not cruel!]

  4. AngryOwl*

    I’ve warned someone away from a job. It was someone I trusted not to share what I told them, and I wanted them to know what they might be getting into (especially since they were moving from a job that was already toxic). I shared the positive aspects with them too, but was transparent about the downsides of the company.

    If it was a total stranger, I am not sure that I’d say much because in that case it’s almost definitely in writing and as Allison says, you don’t want to burn bridges. But language like “the company is in a time of transition,” “there are competing interests,” etc. are usually good flags to people that they should dig deeper/be wary.

    1. Red Tape Producer*

      I did the same thing last year. A friend was applying for my old role and I was able to warn them off, which allowed them to move into another role that was in a functional team and a step up in their career. I have zero regrets and the friend was incredibly professional about it, so it never blew back on me.

      But my former manager encouraged all the interviewees to contact me to learn more about the role, which was much harder to deal with. I ended up not responding to requests for info from strangers, just a quick “sorry, I am current under a heavy work load and unable to meet up/respond to your email/ect” response. That ended up blowing up my face and I’ve since lost any chance at a reference from that manager, although realistically she was going to turn on me for one reason or another eventually.

      I don’t know if I regret it though, I think the guilt of misleading anyone into considering the role would’ve eaten me up inside if anyone hadn’t caught on to my “red flags”. Plus I don’t know how to diplomatically describe a manager who hires staff based on whether she thinks they’d agree to come to her backyard BBQs or listen to her complain about her latest relationship for two hours while they were supposed to be discussing a project.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        “That ended up blowing up my face and I’ve since lost any chance at a reference from that manager”
        Your ex boss was using you to vet future employees for her.
        One or two real candidates, MAYBE for a boss with whom you had a good relationship and were willing to help “seal the deal” is very different. It is an actual favor.
        Your ex boss was not asking you for a favor.
        She was asking you involve yourself in the hiring process and vet candidates for her.
        How do I know?
        Because she got pissed when you pushed back.

    2. Ali G*

      Same. I once walked into our lobby and saw a good friend’s husband there. Turns out he was interviewing for a job in a department that was notorious for overworking and bullying people (as an example, one guy’s wife had cancer and physically couldn’t get out of bed. Their nanny had to leave by 6:30 and he would get reamed by his boss for leaving by 6 pm on the regular. He was at his desk by 7:30 am).
      I contacted my friend and was basically like “Look I know Jon needs a job, but you already work long hours and you have 2 small kids. This job would make your lives hell.”
      I don’t know if he got an offer or not, but he never worked there. After I told my friend my story of my “departure” she was very grateful for my intel.

  5. Artemesia*

    After over 45 years I am still resentful that when I asked the right questions about the organization, people lied to me about the finances. 3 years in after moving my husband from a great job to follow me to a place with unexpectedly difficult job prospects for him, the place folded merging and cutting loose several departments that were duplicated in the new organization including mine. I managed to slither back in but it was pretty stressful and while I ended up with a good career, it was not the career I had signed on for. No way I could uproot my husband’s career twice so I made the best of it. After I was hired and things collapsed a couple of people apologized for not being honest when I asked the right questions. (pre-internet and young and naive, I didn’t know how to find out independently)

    When they ask the right questions, be honest. I love Alison’s suggestions for how to word it so they know to explore these issues further.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It sucks. I moved to a new location to take a job and even bought a house in the new town. I worked there one year and they came in under the guise of a town hall meeting and closed down the whole division and laid us all off. And this was something I specifically asked about when I interviewed, because the headquarters was in another state. Of course, it’s possible they didn’t know this when I interviewed and I don’t think the hiring manager intentionally mislead me, but again, that kind of thing doesn’t just happen overnight either.

      The timing sucked, and coupled with the recent home purchase, it almost ruined me and I was very nearly homeless because of it.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m shocked to hear that they even admitted to not being honest with you,most people would take take that kind of scummy lie to their graves!

      I found out that the scumbags who had a crumbling business that I left kept lying to everyone’s faces within the organization about the financial state. They sold the place without mentioning it to anyone, including their in house accountant until the deal was sealed on their end. Then they played a “we sold and we’re gone at the end of the week.” maneuver. Then played more lies with “They think we have a great team and won’t be making many changes. [BS, they had to make changes to salvage that dump]”Yeah, they brought in all their own workers and gutted the place for the most part, they kept a couple people and gave people the option of taking lesser jobs and slashing their hours drastically, typical take-over garbage tactics. After the groundwork for it being a peaceful transition were laid out.

      Most people involved in that kind of setup rarely show sympathies unless they were sympathetic because they too found themselves on the outs in the end, which happens frequently!

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Subscription or October is in 2 days – click back then if a subscription isn’t in the budget. But for real I have found I’ve never regretted any of my news subscriptions. I get high quality content for a low fee and writers get paid for their work.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I completely support the idea of paying for quality content, and Alison’s is one of the few sites that I read consistently enough to make a subscription worthwhile (if she ever went that route). But as someone who gets paid in a currency worth peanuts against the US dollar, I sadly can’t afford to subscribe to every site that interests me.

    2. Fiona*

      Alison provides free content for readers multiple times a day, every day. If you don’t want to pay for her labor, enjoy the years of free archives. I don’t understand how this comes up EVERY TIME she links to a paywalled article… how do you think she pays her bills???

      1. CastIrony*

        Whoa.

        I agree she needs to pay her bills and eat, and we are grateful for the free content. However, there’s new readers that aren’t aware of this, so this will come up over and over again, just like me saying, “Well, I can’t afford to pay, so I’ll just read the next post because it is what it is.”

        1. Malty*

          We understand that but the tone in which people talk about the subscription or not being able to afford it often comes across as entitled, -not saying this time was- or people jump in with ways around it, ie ways around Alison getting paid, and it really does happen every time so Fiona’s frustration is understandable

        2. Fiona*

          “However, there’s new readers that aren’t aware of this”
          I understand that, but the internet and the concept of paywalls have been around for a while – it just bothers me that in the time it takes to write up the comment and press “publish,” the commenter doesn’t realize that the link to a paid site is purposeful and not some sort of glitch.

    3. D3*

      Someone posts something like this EVERY time, and I always wonder “why are they posting that they can’t see it?”

      And I think the answer is:
      1. They are hoping someone will give them free access.
      2. They want to make Alison feel guilty for getting paid for her work.

      Thankfully Alison has enough confidence that these whiners won’t make her feel badly.
      But really, if you cannot afford to pay writers for their work, ESPECIALLY writers with lots of free content available, at the very least, don’t whine at them. It’s rude. And no one’s going to share their password with you.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    A couple of times as a candidate I’ve been able to get in touch with the person who previously had the job I was applying for, with two different outcomes. Both agencies were toxic. In one case, the person who had quit was very forthright about it, and I ended up rescinding my acceptance (based not only on what she said but also on the advice of a friend in the industry whom I hadn’t known had worked with that agency before, or I’d have asked him from the beginning). I am very grateful to that person for helping me dodge a bullet. It was kind of like when you dump a bad SO and all your friends come out of the woodwork to say how good it is that you left that sorry excuse for a human, and you’re like “where were you when I could have just not gone on a second date with them?!”

    In the second case, the person who was leaving the job wanted to make money from that agency, but as a contractor because being an employee there was not a good situation. THAT person lied to me and said she was going freelance to spend more time with her family. It was only after a few months in that craphole of an agency that my coworkers told me that she hated it there (and also I was being coached to sell the agency hard to potential new hires, so clearly she was told the same thing and did so so that they’d continue to throw her freelance work after her last day as an employee).

    I am very grateful to that first person who helped me dodge a bullet, and I wish I’d handled it better as a candidate — I should not have mentioned to the internal recruiter that the reason I was rescinding my acceptance was that I had talked to the previous job holder. Now I know better that I was probably damaging her reference from that company. (That being said, the recruiter’s reaction was more “oh geez, I guess she found out what we’re really like” than “how could she say that? we’re amazing!” So I hope I didn’t do too much damage!) And although I understand why the second person did what she did, it still wasn’t good in the end for that agency that she helped convince me to go there. I was job hunting three months in, and I ended up quitting after less than a year. So, as Alison says, hiring someone under false pretenses won’t work out well for ANYONE, including the company.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I should not have mentioned to the internal recruiter that the reason I was rescinding my acceptance was that I had talked to the previous job holder. Now I know better that I was probably damaging her reference from that company.
      Yes, once you share something, it’s out there. And the next person has to decide what do with it.
      Which is why we have OP’s letter.
      But we also need to share information about these places.
      Which is why we have Alison.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “I should not have mentioned to the internal recruiter that the reason I was rescinding my acceptance was that I had talked to the previous job holder. Now I know better that I was probably damaging her reference from that company.”
      And there, OP, you have a very good reason not to out your employer as toxic – the person you are warning may out you as being rather too frank!

  7. TCO*

    I’ve done similar. I’ve been pretty candid with acquaintances about the challenges (and benefits) of one particularly tough workplace I was in. One person chose to take the job anyway and later realized that I wasn’t exaggerating when I warned her about the challenges. She was never happy in the job–and that obviously isn’t good for her, but it also wasn’t good for the company.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I had an interviewer actively wave me off and tell me working there was a mess. It was! I took her seriously but accepted anyway, because it was a contract position (with no FTE conversion) and the pay was fantastic. It was way better than the also-temporary contract position I was in. Nine months later, I got out with a pile of savings just ahead of being eliminated anyway. I was grateful she was honest. It was helpful to know what I was getting into.

  8. anonymouse*

    I was the person Alison warned about at the end: an acquaintance who worked at the company heavily hinted it was a shootshow but I ignored and joined anyway because it was the career transition I wanted and I thought I could make the best of it. It lasted 11 months, I made some good friends, learned a new industry that jumpstarted my current career, and in the end don’t regret it. But yeah, it was a shootshow and I thanked her for telling me ahead of time, and said there wasn’t much she could’ve told me that would’ve convinced me not to take the job.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      It’s about weighing up the pros and cons. I’m currently in a very stressful work environment. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it toxic, but maybe I’m deluding myself on that point. However it’s given me the opportunity to transition into a related field which is worth it’s weight in gold, to me. After 2+ years in my new field (plus my previous transferrable skills) I’m pretty much established and can look for a similar role elsewhere. So a relatively short term stretch in a toxic environment can be valuable if you know why you are there and what you’ll get from it.

  9. Mel_05*

    Definitely let people know. I wish I’d been able to talk to a predecessor from my last job.
    During the interview they definitely led me to believe that there was only one who had quit for vague personal reasons. I assumed health. I found out after working at the job for a few months that there had been several people in my position, but they had all quit because they couldn’t stand working for our awful grandboss.

    1. pope suburban*

      Yes, this was my last job too. They made it sound like the previous person was leaving because her project was winding down, but in reality no one had lasted longer than nine months there. The company was so dysfunctional that they had multiple people from the temp agency leave for lunch and never come back, or only make it through one day before declining to return. I was desperate enough at the time that I still would have taken the job, but I’d like to think I would have avoided some of the toxicity by going in knowing that I was not going to have a future there, and that I needed to have very strict boundaries and limits. Going into that meat grinder in good faith and doing my best to contribute didn’t impress them, it just let them siphon off much more of my energy and well-being than was needed.

  10. Partly Cloudy*

    Not being paid on time – for FOUR YEARS – is almost certainly illegal. This can and should be reported, and it’s a big deal.

    1. OP*

      I had to go through my calendar and e-mail to see how far it went back. I honestly didn’t realize that it had been been an issue for the majority of my working career there. My sense of normal is completely out of whack.

      It thankfully hasn’t been an issue since March, but the underlying issue still there. Would any of you kind readers share how someone might report this issue if it does happen again? I will make sure to pass it along to a trusted colleague.

  11. Mediamaven*

    I just want to offer a differing perspective to this. I had someone who quit a job I was considering after like two weeks and warn me away from it aggressively. She was a friend I respected so I trusted her opinion and avoided that job like the plague. Finally, when I couldn’t get a job to save my life (I was right out of school) I ended up applying and was hired. It ended up being the best professional decision I could have made. The fast pace and growth fit my skillset and I learned enough to eventually start my own successful company. Just be careful to form your own opinions based on multiple things.

    1. Filosofickle*

      It’s true! On the other side of the hiring fence, I had an old friend call me to check out a prospective new employee who I had worked with. At that job, he had a reputation for chronic lateness and flakiness. She hired him anyway, trusting her own assessment of him, and he ended up being a great employee for her. Like any reviews/references, you really do have to sift through what you hear and weigh it against your own experiences.

    2. Observer*

      What the OP is describing is not “fast paced” or even “high pressure.” These are also mostly not matters of opinion of interpretation. The issues of too much workload may be a matter of interpretation. But there are some objective problems here, as well as some flatly illegal behavior.

      Not paying on time, not reimbursing significant amounts of money for months at a time, and refusing to provide work required equipment are all things that are objectively problematic. Of course, someone might decide to take the job anyway, but lets be clear. These items are NOT a matter of perspective.

      1. Dave*

        Workload can be really subjective. I started in our accounting department but hated it and move to a different department (with more money). I used to get pulled into accounting all the time because I could enter invoices in a quarter of the time of one of the people. To that employee her workload was overwhelming, to me the workload couldn’t keep me busy enough. Plus a new person sometimes can streamline, create different processes or is allowed to eliminate tasks the previous person was told five years ago was important but everybody forgot why.

        The pay thing is a totally different issue then workload / manager problems.

      2. Smithy*

        I think what can be a matter of perspective is how much it matters. For many people, the desire to start a job that might fold in months is low – but even that risk appetite can vary.

        Someone who’s planning to start post-graduate studies or make a major move in 12-18 months and sees this as a worthy industry transition or advancement may figure that the job ending due to the company folding isn’t the worst risk in the world. Someone who’s bills aren’t entirely dependent on their salary/reimbursements hitting on time. This is one of those cases where the OP absolutely should share, but it remains possible that there will still be people knowing this information who can still see the value.

        1. Observer*

          Sure, some people might make that decision. But you simply cannot say that the problem is a matter of perspective. This is objectively problematic. Now, someone could decide that the problems are worth it for whatever reason, but that’s a different issue. And that’s why you give people the facts rather than telling them to stay away.

    3. Annony*

      This is exactly why it is better to say the pros and cons than just say don’t apply. Of course in this case not being paid on time is a pretty big deal, but someone may be willing and able to put up with that. It’s up to them to decide. I tend to be pretty transparent with applicants what the pros and cons are. I love my job but not everyone would do well here. I think it is in the best interest of everyone involved to make sure that the person who takes the job is ok with the downsides.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I think there is a big difference between warnings about workplace culture, which can suit some people but not others, and warnings about payroll being late, since that hints at a company that may be on its way to being an un-company.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have been in that boat before, multiple times. I have been told certain company owners are difficult, demanding, downright devious, etc. But it turns out that the person had an axe to grind and didn’t like being held accountable, didn’t like having so much responsibility, didn’t like that the owner didn’t like to just give them full authority to buy the moon if they decided it was a necessary tool for them.

      But that’s why I agree that you shouldn’t be listening to people about things that are subjective.

      If someone says “They don’t pay on time” that’s not subjective, that’s a big red flag of instability and irresponsibility and illegal acts. Like I want to hear “I spent about 4 hours a day dodging collection calls from our vendors who we paid anywhere from 75-120 days or until they shut off our credit.”

      BUT also I don’t take the word of someone who quits within 2 weeks unless they witnessed something egregious. I quit within a week once because I witnessed someone screaming incoherently at a worker and previous to that was acting erratically. You better tell me something like that if you quit within 2 weeks or I’m going to be curious why you couldn’t hack it more than anything!

    6. allathian*

      Yes, some people are certainly better able to handle a frenetic pace than others. I definitely couldn’t deal with it and possibly your friend couldn’t, either.

  12. OP*

    Thank you for answering my question, Alison! You brought up some really great points and I feel much more confident about how I’ll discuss these issues.

    Shortly after I wrote in to you, I had one of our freelancers reach out to me about this role. While the majority of the conversation was vague (like you mentioned in your letter), the mood of the call shifted when he said: “Look, I frankly have trouble getting paid by your employer. Is this a problem full-time staff members have?” Yikes! At that point I fully disclosed that this had been an issue for years, and while we’ve tried our best to fix the problem, I didn’t expect it change anytime soon. He was really appreciative and thankful. He’s the breadwinner in his family and he’s not willing to take on that risk. Turns out our freelancers have similar, if not worse, problems getting paid on time.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Glad it worked out! And I’m glad he was direct because obviously late payroll was a dealbreaker for him (as it would be for many!)

      1. CastIrony*

        I couldn’t read the article (paywall but oh, well), but I would appreciate knowing if the company is bad to work for. Word-of-mouth is how I get info like this primarily, and since I live in a small town, I have seen it work against a workplace.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Absolutely unshocking to hear. I’m relieved he asked about your payroll because it’s not normal for a company to have trouble making normal payroll for employees so it’s not something they will think to ask about, they just assume that ‘duh, everyone makes payroll or they close the place down”. Freelancers are frequently lumped into the vendor payables side and as a seasoned accounting person, there’s a lot of even big-name-places-everyone-recognizes that don’t pay their damn bills, so I’m not shocked to hear that anyone not through the payroll system isn’t getting paid in standard terms.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        When I freelanced I had to be a PEST to get paid, but I would have been shocked to my shoes to hear that staff wasn’t getting payroll on time. I would not even have thought to ask! That he did ask might mean that someone *else* is talking and this news is out.

        1. MayLou*

          I had to sue one organisation and threaten to sue another to get my tiny, almost negligible (to them, not to me) invoices paid. I have not worked for either establishment again and warn friends about them.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        OMG I work for a huge global company and they just moved all invoices to Net 60 schedule unless we get a special approval to expedite.

        It’s ridiculous because that hurts small business and freelancers so badly to wait that long to be paid. ESPECIALLY now!

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      So, this is an open secret. That had to be an eye opener, thinking you had some responsibility to protect the company’s reputation. And it turns out that they don’t care.
      In their minds, they screw people who let themselves be screwed. If it were a problem, then the people would push for the money. We haven’t been sued so everyone is just being whiny.

  13. Loosey Goosey*

    This sort of happened to me once, except I was long gone by the time OldJob hired a replacement, and the new person contacted me to validate some of the problems they were having with management. Since I didn’t work there anymore, and it had been an awful toxic environment, I felt no allegiance to OldJob and was honest with the new person that I’d had many of the same experiences, and it wasn’t going to change. I felt bad that I couldn’t really help, beyond saying “it’s not you, it’s them,” but luckily the new person was able to move onto a different (better) job shortly after.

  14. Kara S*

    “Additionally, I hope that the discussions prompted by the letter and article(s) will increase awareness of the crisis of lacking affordable childcare options in the U.S., especially during this pandemic; as well as the ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued.”

    I loved this note you included at the end. Congratulations on your new job, I hope it goes really well for you!

  15. Anon for this*

    I really appreciate Alison’s advice here. I do have a question though — I agree with the advice that these types of conversations should generally occur in-person or over the phone (or video call), so as to avoid leaving a written trail. However, I still feel sort of paranoid about having the conversation at all (as the person giving diplomatic, balanced feedback about their employer to a prospective employee), since I’m still worried that what I say will somehow get back to my current/former employers (in my small field) and cause trouble for me down the road. As in, my words could be twisted, and the person I’m speaking with could go around telling other people that I was badmouthing my current/former organization to them.

    Does anyone else worry about this?

    1. employment lawyah*

      Yes, and you are right to be worried. Although I agree with AAM that this is usually a net BENEFIT to the company (who want to hire someone who won’t like it there?)

      1) It’s often perceived as disloyal to the company.
      2) It will quite possibly be twisted in the reporting, making things worse.

      Note that both of these issues go down a bi if you can manage to stick to the “just the facts no analysis other than positive” strategy I discussed above.

      1. Anon for this*

        Thank you! I agree, presenting cons in terms of specifics (as long as they’re not confidential/proprietary/not meant for external audiences including prospective employees) without interjecting opinions seems to be a safer way to avoid repercussions, though nothing is entirely foolproof.

        I recently came out of a horrible work situation, and I still feel kind of bad for ignoring a LinkedIn connection’s request to speak about the role when I was still there (which I ignored out of fear of employer repercussions) — I guess in this case, I was hoping my silence would be message enough.

    2. Observer*

      For the same money someone could bad mouth you by twisting your words or silence as hiding the problems. That could hurt you in a different way.

  16. employment lawyah*

    My $0.02: You can be up front about SPECIFICS, but you should try not to share negative OPINIONS. That gives fair warning but allows for other people (who are not you and who may not care!) to have different opinions. You can share your negative opinions with those people who you know well, provided you don’t write them down.

    “About twenty times a year we are asked to stay late on a last minute basis. Roughly half of those were Friday nights” is a specific.
    “The workload is horrible and you won’t be able to have a social life” is an opinion.

    When doing so, try to avoid words like “often” and replace them with terms like “approximately three times per week”. This type of specificity will force you to be more accurate and will also avoid miscommunication: One person’s “often” is another persons “almost always” or “not much”, and so on.

    I’m a bit more skeptical of sharing your own personal conclusion (what I liked, what you didn’t like) than AAM; I generally think it’s best to put facts out there without filler and let them take it as they wish. It matters that reimbursements are late; it doesn’t matter that you cared–any more than it would matter if you DIDN’T care.

  17. CastIrony*

    I couldn’t read the article (paywall but oh, well), but I would appreciate knowing if the company is bad to work for. Word-of-mouth is how I get info like this primarily, and since I live in a small town, I have seen it work against a workplace.

  18. Jennifer Juniper*

    I would never put any information that is less than glowing in writing – ever. There is always a chance it will get back to the company – and they could punish the OP by giving them terrible references forever after.

  19. Workfromhome*

    A lot of good advice here.
    I think the key is differentiating the tangible issues from the intangible issues.
    I think one should speak very frankly (but as unemotionally as possible) about tangible issues like not being paid on time or long wait for reimbursement. These are factual issues that no one is going to see as a positive. Really no one will say “I can’t wait to work for a company that doesn’t pay me on time” If your current employer asks you to hide the fact that they don’t pay on time they are just covering up issues that they are well aware of.
    Any reasonable person interviewing you for a new job that you tell “one reason I left is that my pay was a month late 20 times in a year and it is a financial strain not to be paid” is not going to see that as basing a former employer.
    If I was an friend , took the job and then didn’t get paid and all the current employees said “Oh yeah happens all the time your friend Fergus hated that” I would be PISSSED you knew and didn’t tell me.

    Other stuff yes you need to be more diplomatic if its intangible. “I didn’t get along with Jane’s management style because of x and y” Maybe x and y doesn’t bother the person. They can decide if they would hate that . Rather than you saying “I hate Jane she sucks you don’t want to work with her.”

  20. Person of Interest*

    My personal rule has been to keep my comments about my company to anything that I would also be willing to say to my boss in person. If you would say to your boss: I’m feeling demoralized because I can’t get the equipment that I need, it seems reasonable to say it to someone who wants to know about working there. It makes it much harder for them to accuse you of badmouthing behind backs when you have said the same things up front.

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