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I know to start off the question may sound a bit subjective as everyone has a different taste hence also a different criteria for good chemistry, but as there are some generic rules for good and healthy working place, like the WHO guidelines here.

I am a senior software developer who has worked in the last 3 years at 3 different companies. To begin with everything seemed to go down well but slowly things changed, conflict started to occur and keeping myself motivated seemed tougher than usual.

Some of the frequently occurring demotivating factors

  • What started as "we are a family" slowly turned into "Every man for himself".

  • Survival of the fittest.

  • Backstabbing

  • Mobbing, gang ups against good performers.

  • Teasing to sometimes derogatory remarks if you falter somehow.

Which actually led to the downfall in the productivity of the team and the project as a whole. I know it's usual to paint a rosy picture of a future workplace in general during the interview process but I don't wish to take them for granted time and again disappoint myself and keep changing jobs because of unhealthy atmosphere, because I love the work I do.

I have also dug deeper introspectively to see if I am subconsciously doing something wrong in a repetitive manner, though I could muster some points where I could have done things in a different way, like expressing criticism in a diplomatic way and being more transparent in communication. However I am not sure if these points could help revive a festered workplace and lack of camaraderie. :)

I am in interview process again and unfortunately during corona times when everything is happening remote and not in person. I am searching for some out of the box ideas to probe healthiness of workplace at a future employer. Online reviews do help but I guess the people one is going to work with may or may not be in line with them.

Are there some smarter ways to get around the answer to the question without botching up an interview process?

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    Good question, but really tough to answer. I suspect this question will get closed because of that. – Stephan Branczyk May 19 at 6:36
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Here are some strategies I can think of:

  1. Ask the interviewer(s) what is their favorite thing about working at the company. Candidates ask me this question all the time and I love answering it, because we do have a really good workplace culture. My answer is the people I work with. It's not all of the perks I get, or the mission of the company or the tech stack. It's the people hands down every single time.
  2. Do they treat you like a colleague during the interview? I always tell the candidates I interview that I want this to feel more like colleagues having a dialogue, because I want the candidate to be comfortable and for their authentic self to shine through.
  3. Ask yourself are their answers genuine and consistent? It's easy to say things that a candidate wants to hear, but it's hard to mean it and coordinate across multiple interviewers. I was once interviewed by a person that was so completely disingenuous at a company that was publicly going through a large scandal. I would've preferred some frankness rather the sad smoke and mirrors the guy was trying to sell me.
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    I use a variant on 1: "What's the worst thing about working here?" (generally after asking what's best); while occasionally it leads to some defensive answers, it has also led to some interesting insights. – Philip Kendall May 19 at 9:26
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In my experience you can learn more about company culture by asking about places where the effects of a culture are visible, rather than by asking directly about the culture itself.

So, ask about the areas where the things you've identified as being demotivating would present themselves (without leading the interviewers by giving your preferences before they've had a chance to answer). For example:

What started as "we are a family" slowly turned into "Every man for himself".

You may be able to learn about this sort of attitude if you ask about processes the team follows, for processes that you would expect to include strong collaboration.

For a software job this may include things like code reviews, retrospectives, or what happens if "the build" is broken.

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If you want to go full stalker mode (not really suggested), but you can use social media to find out if employees who didn't go to school together, aren't related through familial relationships, etc. are hanging out outside of work functions. Look for positive comments about their work outside of Linkedin, or ensure that they aren't commenting about how tired they are, how their mental health is suffering, etc.

Given all that though, a word of caution, doing that will inevitably lead to you spilling some information that they haven't given you directly. That might end up labeling you as a creep (you would be), and then having problems.

I reckon I would just ask for a video call with some team members and chat with them. Feel out if you think they're being guarded or not, etc.

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