Want To Avoid a Burnout Culture in Your Next Job? Ask These Questions During the Interview was originally published on Ivy Exec.
Responding to APA’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, a full 79% of U.S. workers said they had experienced work stress within the past month. Three in five workers said they were experiencing mental and physical side effects as a result of that stress, including decreased motivation and energy (26%), cognitive weariness (36%), emotional exhaustion (32%) and physical fatigue (44%) — up 38% from APA’s 2019 survey.
Warding off burnout has never been more important, but in certain company cultures, that’s easier said than done. From the way projects are managed to the amount of facetime — during a pandemic, even — that leadership requires, at some organizations, burnout conditions are too embedded in the culture to avoid.
If you’re interviewing for a new role and want to gauge whether the organization and its leadership team foster a culture of burnout, there are a handful of questions worth asking, according to the experts we heard from.
1.“Do you provide employee wellness benefits and perks?”
Though it’s best not to lead off an interview with a benefits-based question, bringing this up at some point during the process is wise, Michael Knight, co-founder of Incorporation Insight, said.
“Inquiring about this demonstrates that you are particular about maintaining a healthy balance between your personal and professional lives,” he said. “It’s crucial, however, to ask this only when you are already in the final stages of the recruitment process. Instead of coming off as rude or demanding, it will reflect that you are actually driven to commit to the company and are firm about your needs.”
2.“When was the last time your company policy was amended to fit today’s digital workforce?”
A company culture that’s failed to be responsive and adaptive throughout the pandemic could also be one where burnout is more present. For that reason, Ezra Cabrera, content marketing manager at SMB Compass, recommended asking the above question, as well as the follow-up: “If this is still in the works, what policies would you like to see in the amended document?”
3. “What are the biggest challenges in this role?”
“This question helps you understand what you’ll be up against if you’re hired,” he said. “If the challenges sound interesting and realistic, that’s great! But if they don’t, or if they seem overwhelming, then it might be a sign that the position is more stressful than it should be.”
4.“Can you tell me about a specific time you felt supported by the company while going through something particularly challenging?”
This one is useful for two reasons, Lisa McPhee, a career and confidence coach, said.
“If the interviewer answers with a personal story, you will be able to get a glimpse into the company culture and how they support their employees outside of work,” she said. “If the interviewer chooses a work-related story, you will get an idea of how the company supports their employees during challenging times or while working on challenging projects.”
5.“How does the company handle overtime?”
If you have to work late or over the weekend on a project, is that time given back to you as a comp day? Find out, Kathy Bennett, CEO of Bennett Packaging, advised.
“Another pertinent question to ask an interviewer is how they handle overtime and other forms of extra work,” Bennett said. “Companies that adequately compensate for overtime also consider how employees recover from extra work.”
Another way to get at this concept, according to Patrick Casey, Director of Growth Marketing at Felix Health? Ask: “How effectively does the team meet deadlines?”
“This question helps you understand whether employees are often overwhelmed by compounding deadlines and intense workloads, or if they’re able to stay on top of their responsibilities,” he said. “Overtime should not be necessary to get the work done — if that seems the case, it’s a good reason to withdraw your application.”
6.“What’s the process for reviewing work?”
Getting insight into a team’s system for reviewing work and implementing feedback can help flag a bottleneck culture — which, in and of itself, can lead to burnout, Jacob Udodov, CEO of Bordio, said.
“Ask how completed work is reviewed to see if the company has a clear structure: detailed assignment shared at the beginning, KPIs to keep track of the progress, and clear evaluation criteria,” he said. “Without them, employees are likely to have their work pushed back for countless re-dos.”
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7.“What does your typical work day look like?”
While it’s common to ask what a typical day looks like for the role you’re interviewing for, reframing this to focus on the interviewer’s work day can reveal a lot about their leadership style.
“If you ask the manager to share what their typical workday looks like, you can get a lot of insight from what they stress attention on,” Udodov said. “If you hear that a lot of the things they do are pretty much micromanagement, then be sure that they will micromanage you — which is perhaps the No. 1 reason for burnout.”
8.“How do employees bond as a team?”
If the interviewer stares at you blankly when this question is asked — that’s a major red flag, Mike Grossman, CEO of GoodHire, said.
“This question is simple and straight-forward by design,” he said. “You’re looking for clear examples that point towards a workplace that cares about the well-being of its employees. In a toxic, stagnant workplace, the manager may struggle to provide a specific answer. If employees are not bonding, or spend the majority of their working time in isolation, this is an indication that the workplace harbors stress and fosters burnout.”
Conversely, if the company has a healthy operating culture, you should receive a thorough answer, Grossman added.
“You’ll learn about the organization’s team building efforts, how employees get to know each other, and ways they remain invested in each other’s success,” he said. “In an interview setting, this question is a valuable resource. The answer makes it abundantly clear whether you can learn and grow in this new environment, or if you’d be better suited elsewhere.”
9.”What have people who held this role previously gone on to do in the organization?”
And when your interviewer answers, pay attention to more than just the language they’re using, Biron Clark, Founder of CareerSidekick, said.
“The interviewer’s response — and body language — will give you an indication of whether people tend to enjoy the role and stay in the organization, eventually moving up, or if this role is a potential dead-end due to burnout or other reasons,” he said.
10.“How does the rewards and recognition system work in the company?”
People who feel their hard work goes unnoticed (and unrewarded) are far likelier to burn out — which makes getting insight into the company’s recognition system key.
“If the interviewer provides a clear-cut, specific and measurable answer on how employees’ accomplishments are recognized — in the form of awards, public praises, or other tokens of appreciation — it shows how the company appreciates their workforce efforts,” Siva Mahesh, CEO of Dreamshala, said.
Bonus tip: Pay attention to what your interviewer doesn’t say.
“Burnout is a result of a company culture that puts performance above employees’ health,” Maciej Kubiak, Head of People at PhotoAiD, said. “The indicators include high competition, pressure and formality. Pay attention to warning signals. Was your employer interested in something personal, like your career goals or most rewarding accomplishments? Be vigilant if not. When recruiters care only about your technical skills, they will probably demand only high performance, leading directly to burnout.”