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Ask HN: As an employee of a company, how do you assess its health?
273 points by dpflan on June 28, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 192 comments
What indicators do you look at to determine whether the company is in good or bad health or trending in a direction?

Do you have anecdotes (or even more significant data!) about signs or events or shifts in culture that ended up foretelling a change to the company?


I mainly meant "startup" (i.e. not Fortune 500) when I said company. But I don't want to prevent discussions about larger entities, so perhaps we can preface comments with which type of company you're talking about if necessary. :)

They suddenly decide to inventory equipment (determine company value or collateral). Cutting back on benefits like 401k matching. Delays buying new equipment. People quitting and not being replaced. Senior management having all-day private meetings. They request your background information as if to determine if you are qualified for current or new positions (if company is discussing being acquired). Hackathons with a theme completely off target from current products. Multiple sets of men in suits touring the office. Managers stop downloading latest version of the beta-test app. Managers stop showing up for meetings. Managers stop caring about product quality. You look up from your desk and realize the office is empty when it should be busy - either those people are being terminated or you are being terminated.

"Multiple sets of men in suits touring the office"

New tenants being shown round the office you are in can be a bit worrying...

Not to discount what you're saying, but there are several sets of “men in suits” that appear long before you lose your office space.

Some are your investors (or work for them). Some are consultants or advisors, promising to solve all your problems. The service provider you're re-negotiating payment terms with. Potential acquirers, etc.

Absolutely, I used to work for a large company that did a lot of acquisitions and I was on the pre-acquisition due-diligence team for a few of them and I recognised the enquiring but slightly worried looks of employees. I've been on both sides!

NB I didn't wear a suit though, I do have some standards ;-)

>I used to work for a large company that did a lot of acquisitions and I was on the pre-acquisition due-diligence team for a few of them

I'd be very curious about the whole process beginning to end, and what you tended to look for, what made things go through or not go through, and just general advice you have for companies that may want to be acquired in the future.

Are groups of men in suits ever up to anything good?

At a funeral helping to carrying the coffin.

At wedding celebrating the new couple.

Must they be men?

Of course not. They also don't need to be in suits. The wording is just meant to evoke particular imagery. And the comment that you replied to just used that quoted section from the parent and grandparent, anyhow. If you have a problem with the wording, then you have a problem more directly with the grandparent than with this comment, IMO.

Yes. they must. be men. If there were a bunch of women in suits cruzin around I would be kinda stoked. haha. I almost didn't reply to this because I understand that you're trying to make a point but because your post has no value I decided to reply with a post of equal value.

and they the men in suits should get paid more. Keep downvoting see if I care.

"Do these people come with?"

Exactly that. Also management suddenly asking developpers to document source code when they never cared before, or new organization with business people being put in charge of the developpers.


After being sold and resold, aqui-hired etc, I can attest to the accuracy of these observations. You'd do well to remember this post.

If you were caught off guard (and wouldn't mind sharing) what was an anecdote that in retrospect you realized was an obvious red flag?

5 months prior being offered to relo to another city within the same company - and nobody else was. At the time, I was looking after my mom who had cancer. My manager, without saying anything, was trying to help me.

I declined as moving her would have meant undo hardship (doctors etc). He pressured me hard to take it though.

I went on vacation for a two week motorcycle trip (my gf was looking after mom, giving me a break, god bless her!) and logged into FB to find all my co-workers had been terminated. I received no notice, so I continued on my vacation. Upon return, I went to work as expected only to find myself locked out.

Hindsight. My manager was a class guy and knew what I was going through and tried his best to help me while honouring his commitments to the company.

Thanks that's I interesting. A manager pushing some odd agenda w/o much reason is expected; but if you respect him/her and observe a few other signs then it might be a life boat in disguise.

There's a great article on this topic from Steve Blank:


He argues that a leading indicator is when free food/drinks are removed, as it's a sign that the company is moving from a growth, "we're all in it together" mentality to a cost-cutting one.

I, personally, focus on who's getting promoted and who's leaving. If a company is promoting internally and retaining people, then it's typically in a good place; if a lot of people are getting hired above others, and new employees aren't staying long, then it's in poor health.

When I read things like this, I like to take a moment to realise how fortunate we are to work in a sector where something like freebies is almost considered to be a sacred right. Is there any other profession or sector where they get the same treatment?

I don't think removing or reducing these benefits is a sign of poor health. I think it's more a sign of turning into a proper business (which needs to answer to the people who put the money to buy all these drinks in the first place), which isn't for everyone, but it doesn't _have_ to be a bad sign.

I do agree with the second part. The attrition rate is definitely something to keep tabs on, but it's important to know why people are leaving.

Please be aware how many executives, lawyers, physicians, finance & trading experts expense meals in restaurants and hotels, go to "trainings" on cruise ships, fly in business class.

Giving engineers free peanuts (so they don't walk out of the building to by some) is hardly a perk.

I'm really surprised about the physician comment. My gf works in the largest medical system in the Bay Area and her "perks" (discounted cafeteria food) are drastically below what I've had at any company in the tech industry for the last decade. They don't even pay for flights for residency or fellowship interviews so doctors have to pay thousands during these times while they are huge debt. She actually has to rotate between hospitals and they don't even subsidize her parking. They don't even support pregnancy for fellows, you have to take state disability.

Which hospital / medical systems give great perks to doctors ?

Once the doctor starts writing prescriptions.

Certainly none that I've worked at or had friends at. Best perk I've ever seen was free knock-off k-cup coffee, and that was a cut above the norm.

And think of how many of those actually have administrative staff around them to take care of all of that too. The perks of being a programmer anywhere but google pale in comparison to the perks of the average high end professional.

Couldn't disagree more. With this mindset why not throw all your employees in a basement and stack them up on picnic tables? If you're not scrimping on every possible front, you're not a proper business?

There are plenty of sectors that have nice offices with snacks and drinks, by the way.

It's always better to invest in growth than to fake it by shaving the budget. When human niceties start getting pared away, it's a sign that growth opportunities aren't working out.

which part of open-floor plan do you not understand?

Cubicles getting ripped out to make way for open plan would also be a negative indicator.

> I don't think removing or reducing these benefits is a sign of poor health. I think it's more a sign of turning into a proper business (which needs to answer to the people who put the money to buy all these drinks in the first place), which isn't for everyone, but it doesn't _have_ to be a bad sign.

Free drinks are incredibly cheap compared to buying the same results through paying higher salaries. Losing them is a sign that the company cares more about fitting into the herd than being effective, which has to be a bad sign.

> I like to take a moment to realise how fortunate we are to work in a sector where something like freebies is almost considered to be a sacred right.

Bear in mind that, most programmers do not get paid overtime, and are expected to work like horses. The reason freebies are sacred rights are because those are, in part, the unofficial payment for working in such conditions.

Yup. I would take getting paid overtime over freebies hands down. 1.5x for every hour worked over 40? Sign me up.

1.5 is a little low 1.75 after 8 Pm 2x at weekend and 2x plus a day TOIL for sunday

Yeah, but grandparent's claim is incorrect. Freebies aren't about compensating for overtime exemption.

For what is worth I'm in Japan so YMMV but I think this generally applies anywhere: if you switch from overtime-exempt to a hourly contract and keep working the same hours, your base monthly salary + overtime pay will be (in average) the same as your current salary.

The catch is "in average". Most corps will avoid having you do overtime if they have to pay extra for it, and conversely will try to switch off-hours support work to salaried employees. So you might end up working less hours and earning less as a contractor -- and sometimes that's what you want anyway. In other cases workers manage to game the system; in some orgs I know the contractors work longer hours than most non-manager salaried employees.

ye like fat food and high content sugar drinks.

> I don't think removing or reducing these benefits is a sign of poor health.

I think this is a very different statement than "it doesn't have to be a bad sign". Leaving aside the question other people addressed of whether freebies are good business, the fact of the matter is that they're currently commonplace. If a company gets rid of those benefits without a clear trigger (like an acquisition by someone more corporate, or C-level turnover), the question to ask is why?

Is it likely that the executives who previously offered freebies attended a leadership seminar and decided it would be more professional to take them away? Or is it more likely that the trajectory is bad, and snacks looked like a responsible first target for budget cuts?

The question here isn't "what's a responsible first cut for a struggling company?" On that point, I agree, cutting snacks before staff is probably a sensible business decision. The question is "what's a warning sign that the company is struggling and you don't know it?" I think empirically, cutting freebies without a clear cause is definitely a sign of poor health.

The math doesn't actually support that view. Over the past couple of decades a number of studies have been done on this and it is always less costly to the business to pay 'snacks' than it is 'overtime.'

When you step back and analyze the business mechanics, which is to say your cost to run the business versus the revenue that business generates, in terms of personnel cost from most to least expensive is 'salary + overtime', 'salary + snacks', 'salary'. In many ways snacks are the 'open plan' equivalent of cost management.

That said, I don't think there is ever 'one thing' that says "Hmm, we might be dying." often it is a combination of things. From a startup perspective founders leaving (especially if they are replaced by someone completely out of the blue), delays on new projects, failing to replace people who have left and were doing good work. All good signs.

My dad attested to this as well.

He said it is absurd how cheap you can buy employee loyalty with free snacks and soda.

Even at a 100 person company, they were spending ~$600 / week on snacks but when you factored in that developers cost $30+ / hr alone, you are buying time for such a low price.

You are literally giving a developer $2 for $15+ of their time. That is even discounting the price of keeping them in the same brain space and some possible cross-team germination.

Retail often has employee discounts, does that make it a great sector to work? Free drinks cost what, $100/employee/month? That's nothing.

So if you have 50 employees that's $5,000 per month, which could be used to pay another salary. Or you could pay your employees that extra $100 directly so they use it whichever way they want.

Employee discounts in retail are usually within company margins for sales and they are limited (e.g. $1,000 purchases per year or so). If the margin doesn't cover these discounts or the system is abused they will get reduced/removed. Likewise, if a startup thinks these $100 per month are better spent elsewhere perhaps they are just being financially responsible.

Don't consider it a freebie. Think of it as an untaxed benefit. When you look at it that way, how would you feel if your employer cut other benefits.

They are nice to have and welcome, but not mandatory. I'm actually the only one in my group of friends who has ever enjoyed these kind of things. That's why I say we are very lucky. Once you step out of the tech bubble you see that what you take for granted is only a dream for many. I can work part time and still make more money than they do.

Sure, just keep in mind what the people running these companies are helping themselves to.

When a company starts to issue mugs instead of one time usable cups as a way of saving money. That's when you know the company is going through health issues instead of focusing resources on real issues. I've seen it happen first hand in two companies & it's a fast slippery slide for people as redundancies are just around the corner.

One simple thing missing in most of these replies: ask questions. Ask your boss, ask your peers, ask the CEO now and then.

  - How is the company doing against its goals for the year?
  - What does our runway look like?
  - What signs of product success are we expecting? What are we seeing?
Note that in any company, and especially in a startup, all of these questions are rife with uncertainty and stress. You should expect these to touch a nerve, and request brutally honest answers. Leaders experience existential fear on these topics frequently, even in great companies.

In the responses, be wary of blithe positivity more than bad news. Bad news is normal; a healthy organization learns from it and improves. Optimism disconnected from reality is either an attempt to mislead you or a sign of blindness to results.

> Optimism disconnected from reality is either an attempt to mislead you or a sign of blindness to results.

This is so important. If management is continually pitching a story which you don't see reflected in the work you're doing, or the progress you're making, then it's time to think deeply whether management is out of touch with reality.

That's one of my biggest signs that it's time to leave a company. If management is ignorant to the progress of the company, or continuously gets it wrong, it's time to find yourself new management.

I definitely have had employers that basically refused to discuss such things (in one particularly egregious example, a company with 10 people).

It's frustrating, but some small company CEOs also get very wrapped up in emulating what "Corporate" looked like at bigger companies. That includes keeping information from employees, because if they knew how bad it was they might leave, word might travel to investors, etc.

Refusing the discussion is a categorically bad sign, though of course some details won't be public. Best case, the leader is deluded in a way that limits learning. Like an entrepreneur who wants you to sign an NDA to discuss their idea, this sort of behavior is now obviously bad.

Relatedly, when a candidate asks these types of questions during the recruitment process, this signals that you're clueful. A good employer will happily engage. A bad one will switch to a more gullible candidate.

Building an image as a person who's interested in the company , not just banging on their bit of code, is a really good idea career-wise. When management is thinking who to promote, the person who always seems to care about the business is a natural choice.

This is one of those things where you usually have to go through the school of hard knocks to experience the "fun" parts of working for a small company. When I was a new grad and my first job was at a company of 10-20 people, I only thought about how I'd be interacting with almost the entire company all of the time, and the idea of small, younger companies being a bigger risk to employees never came across my mind.

The warning signs I started to pick up were employee churn, company seemingly not growing in staff size as well. People found their company's practices questionable and they jumped to better places to work at. Managers were sometimes hush-hush with projects being carried out. When I worked there as a consultant, I was working on websites that most of the company's programmers, designers, and managers didn't even know existed on the agenda. I don't know if that is normal for consultant work, but this division of knowledge felt strange for a company small in size.

I generally work for smaller companies, < 50 total staff. Most of my variables and data pieces others have said. My main "rats, sinking ship" is in regards to others working there;

Health note: Employee churn when churn is not the norm.

Health warning: Certain people leaving with enough business knowledge it's noticeable they're gone

Health crisis: Multiple health warnings in quick succession (within 2 years).

At warning level I make sure my CV is updated and start setting up job alerts. At crisis I'm actively applying for jobs to keep my options wide open.

Edit: Ooh reading another comment - I watch the public docs of the company I'm working for. It's a year or so out financials-wise but you can get some info from it.

I'd actually counsel updating the resume every 6 months and applying to at least one job posting with it, just to get a sense of the local job scene. And even if your current company is fine, you might get the chance to switch to one that is better. At the very least, you get some interview practice, which never hurts.

One does get slightly paranoid after getting laid off with only 3 days notice and no severance, one time.

If your management feels that it has to offer some form of reassurance to its employees, in the form of "Don't worry: X will probably not happen," then you should create a contingency plan, as though X is happening next month.

I do try to keep it up to date every so often - though saying that I've been in my current job over a year and haven't touched it.. - those yellow and red flags definitely trigger a more urgent need to update it

HN being the global sort of place I (and others) should really mention where I'm at - in the UK at least short of anything that gets me fired on the spot I know I'll have a month's notice if I do need to start looking so that does give a bit of complacency as it's in writing in my contract.

Having said that it couldn't hurt to keep the eyes open, the job I've got now was a lucky gem of a find

Don't you worry about X, let me worry about blank.


Cutting of catered lunches is a strong signal that the company is in a cash crunch. You can try to propose a weekly catered lunch at your company to "encourage communication" and watch it is a signal. In the past I instituted weekly catered lunches at a company, which were halved from weekly to bi-weekly the moment finance knew there was trouble.

Other indicators: delayed salary reviews, senior staff leaving (and not being replaced, because money) or minority shareholders trying to sell their stakes.

Any rollback of free food perks is a bad sign. It's not always a sign of bad health, but if it's not it means the company is softly lowering the status of it's rank and file in order to put in another layer of management.

Does this often happen? Saving money on lunch might delay a company's failure for a week at best. My perspective is most startups will maintain all benefits until the bitter end explicitly to avoid giving their employees this kind of impression. Hints like this might cause critical employees to jump ship during a financial crunch time.

Interestingly, I've mostly seen this happen in the other direction - with successfully growing companies.

Weekly lunch for a whole company isn't a huge deal at a startup, and it's not going to shorten the runway much. But when you've suddenly got 10x or 100x the original employee count it starts to look less pleasant. By the time a company is spending several salaries worth of money on free lunches, it probably looks tempting to cut them. (And it's probably less destructive when everyone knows the finances are going strong.)

I work in a division of my company that was acquired by it 10 years ago (about a year or 2 before I started working here). When I started, there was "pizza Friday" every week. About a year later, it was every month (and headcount was much higher). A year later, we were building out into another part of the building that we took over when the previous tenant's lease came up. Fast forward. Now, 2/3 of the office it gone, offshored. There's a monthly bagel Wednesday. I've only stayed this long because my manager is pretty awesome.

But I feel like I've seen both sides: Growing out of childhood and falling into senescence. The next time I see this pattern, I'll leave a couple years earlier.

Early-stage startups have real trouble attracting talent. The more the business grows, the less desperate recruitment becomes. Cutting on perks is a decent signal of this: people have actually heard of the company, the stock options seem to really have value, etc, so there's no need to bribe workers with unlimited everything.

It's a surprisingly good leading indicator.

How often do salary reviews generally occur for someone working as a developer (or IT I suppose?)

> How often do salary reviews generally occur for someone working as a developer (or IT I suppose?)

It's served me well to have at least one interview per year with a different company in your field to see what they're offering. Doing this has really helped me understand what the market is willing to pay for my skills, and has more than once caused me to shift the direction of my career because the work they were doing was interesting enough that I switched jobs.

You don't necessarily have to accept the job, and I would caution against switching jobs every single year, but I've definitely found the experience helpful. It also forces you to keep your CV up to date, and it's also great interview practice. I've definitely taken lessons learned from my various interviews and applied them to interviewing candidates for our company.

> It's served me well to have at least one interview per year with a different company

That sounds like really good advice: finding out what's out there, getting interview experience and stopping that "fear of change" feeling you can end up with when you work for one company for a long time.

> and stopping that "fear of change" feeling you can end up with when you work for one company for a long time.

That's what I'm dealing with right now. I've been 9 years at the place that I started at, right out of college. Missed some signs of a downward slide that I should've recognized, and I feel like my current team is a "dead team walking", just waiting for the company to find a way to get rid of us.

So I've got pressure to move on, and my most solid options mean moving my family. If I'd been searching over the last couple of years, I'm sure I could've found something cool and suitable, but still in my current area.

I've seen: never; yearly; semi-annually;

In the "never" case, not that you never got a raise, but that there was no "review" component. Just a notice of your new salary.

When I was working for a big consultancy (many years ago) it was common to get a review after rolling off of a client engagement.

Usually once or twice a year for a seasoned developer, more frequent for jrs. That's been my experience.

I've been at my current position for about ~1.5 years almost without one (I think they are starting to do them soon?). Last time I asked they had said they are implementing a formal process for them.

I've just been looking forward to it.

People seem to forget corporate policies are not law. "I would love to review your salary, but we are in a freeze right now" means nothing. You don't have to accept that formal process excuse.

Strangely enough I didn't quite view it as an excuse (although it could have been?)

So you haven't gotten a raise in a year and a half?

(In my experience, if someone really deserves it then either a bonus or an out of cycle raise or promotion will be given, I've gotten both.)

I've never heard of a bonus being awarded (or a signing bonus of sorts when first starting being given)

Being my first FT position after finishing school I wasn't sure what to expect for reviews/raises/etc.

When people get raises and/or bonuses it's usually not announced publicly.

If your a jr software engineer you should be having regularly scheduled performance reviews. Everyone should be having at least yearly performance review and salary increase (unless you don't deserve a raise, I guess). You shouldn't be going a year and a half without a raise.

Push for a review, insist you need formal feedback on your performance as a jr. During the review bring up salary increase.

The job I worked when I was jr had a 3 month review and a 6 month review, and maybe a 12 month review. These reviews on came with small raises depending on performance. Plus everyone has a yearly review at the same time of year.

(But sometimes someone's performance is strong enough to warrant not waiting for the yearly review/salary increase)

I see - a few times in the past bonuses have been announced if "x occurs".

Yeah I'll bring it up - I'm not sure how "important" it is compared to other day-to-day meetings and such with managers, but hopefully they can find time for it.

Thanks for all the input thus far I appreciate it.

It's important. If your managers hair is too on fire to structure and schedule performance reviews then it's a bad company environment. You should not accept it as ok.

Many answers are negative assuming decline, or provide an extremely complicated answer to a simple problem. I'd propose based on decades of observation that you model the behavior and personality of all of management as if it was one person. Now is that imaginary merged individual person a lunatic deep in cocaine addiction psychosis? That might be a bad sign. Is that imaginary merged person a reasonable good leader? Sounds like a good sign. Is that one merged person in a civil war with its large number of multiple personalities? Run like hell.

This is what "real" culture fit actually is, whereas what culture fit means in 2017 as currently deployed is "we only hire young white ivy-league(-ish) males" which is a totally different concept or problem.

>I'd propose based on decades of observation that you model the behavior and personality of all of management as if it was one person.

The problem I see with this advice is that many technical people (e.g. presumably many HN readers) are not good at "reading people". It's very similar to socially-inept engineers asking "how can I tell if a girl would be ok with me asking her out on a date?" We then respond with more well-meaning advice, "if she smiles at you, that's a good sign." And then the engineer might ask, "well, how can I tell if her smile is genuine affection or just politeness?" ... and so on and so on ... into a sort of infinite recursion into the mysteries of "people behavior".

If the engineer is the kind of person that can read Ribbonfarm's Gervais Principle[1] and say to him/herself, "that was a waste of time because that's all obvious information", then yes, he can follow your advice. He/she can evaluate the managers as if they were chess pieces and figure out the health of the company.

If you're the type that's not "tuned in" into how people exhibit implicit behaviors, you'll need a Plan B. E.g. look at the financials or other strategy.

[1] https://www.ribbonfarm.com/the-gervais-principle/

Plenty of companies with great leaders fail, and some companies with terrible leaders succeed. The question is how you assess the health of the company regardless of leadership ability.

TLDR: You assess health by if you're getting paid what you think it's worth to stay in the job. If you're okay with the pay, and you like the job, be a pro and stay as long as the pay comes in.

A big warning sign was that my employer interview great candidates, make offers, and then the candidate didn't accept. The problem was that we weren't paying competitively.

I tried to express this to upper management, and then instead of fixing the problem, they just gave me a raise. (From below market rate to below market rate but able to start putting money in the newly-offered 401k.)

Shortly afterwards, I interviewed at one of our major competitors. The next day I looked at one of the founders and said, "if there's a chance to exit via acquisition, we need to take it."

Turns out there was an acquisition deal in the works, but we couldn't know due to how US law works. One of the higher-ups asked me to investigate "a bug," and when I looked at her logs, all I saw were references to an upcoming acquisition. I then knew to stick around and give the new owners a chance.

There's a lot to be said for sticking through a few months of uncertainty when it works out to be a great job in the long run.

"There's a lot to be said for sticking through a few months of uncertainty when it works out to be a great job in the long run."

This. You have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. It's not easy with startups to decide which way to go due to the uncertainty inherent in new businesses. I would tend toward hold if the following is true:

1.) The company is meeting a real market need even if it's not doing it very well. The tell: customers 'get' the problem you are trying to solve and want to talk to you. If they stick around but complain a lot about the product that's actually a good sign.

2.) You can afford to lose your job. Getting to a payoff involves some tolerance for risk. Investors take the same risk with their money.

> The company is meeting a real market need even if it's not doing it very well.

Excellent point. I might add, how are renewals & new customer sales? If that info isn't widely shared, take the sales guy out to a pub for lunch. A few beers can provide huge insights.

How would apply this advice to a forture 500 company where "payoff" isn't part of the equation?

It's definitely harder but I would look for your group being in a growing market that's aligned with the strategic direction of the company. That said, you have to make an effort to keep your ear to the ground.

If you hear people use the word "cash cow" when referring to your group or you can't figure out what the company strategy those are signs it might be time to look for something else.

And how did you personally make out, after taxes in said acquisition? Was it worth being underpaid for some amount of years?

I left a job where I was underpaid for $BIGCO, even after their acquisition I still came out ahead of my peers because the reality is most people just don't get much, especially after taxes.

> There's a lot to be said for sticking through a few months of uncertainty when it works out to be a great job in the long run.

Great point considering the OP is talking about startups-- where the likelihood of failure is high. If you have another great opportunity, of course weigh it, but uncertainty is a constant in startups & tech. The idiom "the devil you know vs the devil you don't". I started at a company that looked great from the outside but once I started it was clear that 70% of the people who wrote the bloody codebase had quit or been fired very recently.

You realize quickly that most people don't know what their doing; the good people admit they are learning on the fly. So totally agree with your point, and to add to it, you are weighing your insider knowledge of your firm against your perception of others-- inside those other firms people are likely doing the same thing and probably even looking at you with envy.

My dad used to say: "Son, when assessing the company's health, look for two things: coffee, and toilet paper. If the coffee is not refilled, it means nobody cares, and the company soon will start having serious trouble. If the toilet paper is not refilled, it means there's no money whatsoever, and you should nope out". Worked for me ever since.

- Employee turnover: a large layoff - Retention: some many know something you don't, especially at the high levels. - Restructuring/reorging: there are companies that view this method as a panacea for all ailments (rather than treating the underlying issue(s)). - Projects funded: a concentrated focus on projects that "reduce cost" or "introduce efficiencies" rather than on growth and R&D may be indicative of either a contraction to make a company more palatable for a buy-out, or a simple general state of the money in the bank.

I saw all of these in a single year in the IT department of a former client.

- A new CIO, - Then within his first week, a layoff of all the network engineers (except the manager) right before an all heads meeting - An all heads meeting where we were to provided an "accounting of our yearly hours" and it had to equal to 2080 and a reorganization of IT to be instead of a solutions provider to the company, a help desk. - Then over the course of the next three months, a lot of new projects that combined the various services we consumed (hr, payroll, etc) under one single product, beefed up helpdesk staff count (all temp/contract workers) and layoffs from various orgs in IT: security, development, and helpdesk (employees). - Then over the next two months, employee staff count dropped further bringing the total at the beginning from 60 heads to 12. And all the employees were replaced with contractors.

That said, the company gave out larger bonuses because the bonus pool had already been agreed to, and the employee count was almost non existent, so bigger bonuses spread around to the managers (since they were all that was left). Also the company is still growing elsewhere, just shrinking the places that are "cost centers".

A key indicator I've seen in past companies was when "top skill" or "top manager" level people suddenly submit their resignation and then spend two weeks calmly walking around the office with an ear-to-ear grin. Not too long after that, whisperings of "Why?" start circulating. And shortly after that, I got an upbeat email from HR about "Exciting new company direction" and "Rethinking our core strategies for better customer alignment." In all seriousness, shake-ups and re-alignments are frightening and kill everyone's morale with fears of uncertainty.

I've given another answer, but on the meta level, it shouldn't matter to you if a company is doing well. The only thing that should matter is are you learning skills for which there is a market? Getting in the mindset that your "job" does not determine your well being but your skills do.

That mindset presupposes a few things:

A) that you always have your finger on the market and the skills that are in demand

B) your network is strong - including recruiters.

C) You live below your means and have enough in liquid savings to survive a job loss and getting a new job.

I completely agree with this approach. The best job security is being good at what you do. Fortunately, we work in an industry where if you are even slightly talented, you will have no trouble finding a new job. So, don't worry too much about how the company is doing. Stick around as long as you are getting paid, the work is interesting, and you are growing in your knowledge/skills. Ensure you have savings for any disasters. And always be scouting the market for new opportunities.

True. I think the only time I really worried about my job is between 2008 - 2011. Between the economy sucking and me not following my own advice, I was in a very precarious position.

I told myself I would never do that again

Having a job helps tremendously in negotiating a salary. BATNA is continuing to work at your current pay, rather than living off savings.

It can however be unhealthy and ultimately lead to a worse outcome to continue in the same job with very high levels of stress. You will not interview as well, and you will have to decide to make health sacrifices to brush up on skills necessary to make the next jump.

Certainly, your skills provide a layer of security, ensuring that you don't starve. But once you have this, and it's really not that hard to do once you have a few years in your industry, then you need to start on the next safety net of ensuring you don't get ripped away from your daily routine at a moment's notice.

This is where keeping a finger on what your organization is doing really helps out with. If you can do this well, then you're not just inured to sudden shocks in income, but you can also thrive in uncertainty.

For example, if I caught wind that the company was being reorganized, I'd have a closed-door meeting with my manager to figure out what my exposure was and what opportunities are presented. Perhaps there's a way to help the organization and myself at the same time. Not every such situation has to result in chaos.

For example, if I caught wind that the company was being reorganized

I have a great relationship with my manager, he lets me run the development side as I see fit for the most part, I'm privy to a lot of information because of my role,but he couldn't tell me anything about a reorg until it was announced to everyone. I understand that perfectly.

If I found the company really wanted to keep me out of the loop then I'll assume that I'm not a part of the new direction and plan accordingly. They can let me know what they want from me when I put my new job offer down on his desk.

If I'm a new employee then sure, it's new enough to where my life hasn't settled yet. But after I've been there a year or so, a reorg is basically already like getting another job. If I'm not a part of that process then I'm going to regain control of my destiny myself.

That hasnt been my experience. Maybe it's my ego, but I always go in thinking that I'm good at what I do and that I will be the last man standing, I survived three rounds of layoffs at a former company, was laid off when the company laid off everyone but four people when it was acquired, and even then I negotiated a deal to work as a contractor for one of our customers. The company was very up front about its prospects.

The next time around, during a reorganization at another company, I not only wasn't laid off, I got a promotion. I don't think I play politics I just know how to be effective.

It's a bit subjective, and the more general the statement, the less meaning it would have.

Say a company is becoming corporate and dull, but at the same time becoming more profitable. Are they in good or bad health? As a short-term shareholder you might see them in good health, but as an employee you might see them in bad health.

That said, my experience is to look at team meetings. If they are full of conflict that is resolved respectfully by the end of the meeting, that's usually a good sign. If the same person is dominating and everyone else is quiet, that's a bad sign. If the same arguments keep repeating themselves, that's a bad sign. If there is no conflict at all, and people just stare out of the window while others are talking, that's a bad sign.

At bad companies, everyone knows the real story, but nobody says it out loud. Good people leave, bad people stay, and the problem gets worse.

Also relevant should be the question how to act in different phases. An unhealthy company is not necessarily dying. And even a dying company is not necessarily bad for you. It's like with real people. When someone dies some others start to check out the valuables to get the best for themselves. If you are working in a brilliant team inside a dying company, you may all get picked up, get a raise, and be welcomed into new arms. That's one way to get into Google for instance.

For figuring out the current health status, I'd check:

the product line - is it understandable? is it modern? is it efficient?

the customer base - do they have customers that wouldn't easily change to alternative options?

the management team - do they have visions? are they cooperating? are they lying psychopaths, ambitious inventors, calm survivors (thinking Merkel here), idiotic burocrats?

HR - HR is managements comm channel to the employees. Does the promo material look good? How close is the promo material to the actual day-to-day work?

People - are there smart people you like to work with? How many of them are currently joining? How many of them are currently leaving?

Hiring - you are either new and just got hired or there for a long time and probably at least hear things about the hiring process at the water cooler. how reasonable does it sound? does it filter out idiots? does it assess quality attributes like culture? Does the feedback from the interviewers have influence on the hiring decision (more often than you think they actually just hire anybody, if they are hiring at all).

re: the product line - also, is it sticky/easy to migrate away? I've worked for places with products that were not great but had institutional customers who required acts of god to change vendors. We were okay.

The list is meant more as a list of variables to compare, not as a list of possible red flags. If one or two factors are totally bad it still doesn't necessarily mean that you would call the patient "sick", especially when corresponding factors are fine.

Strong market position with bad products is usually okay. But if you know that and then hear about a deal that may risk decreasing the market position, then you know that there's a good chance it will get a lot worse and you can already start screening the job market for alternatives.

Also there are some factors, like good colleagues, which can compensate a lot for you personally, like bad HR department and bureaucratic leadership.

And sometimes things that are bad for you personally are actually good for the company. For instance if your customer is the government then bureaucratic leadership may actually be a market advantage over the competition.

Employee experience. The biggest problem at the company I recently left was inexperience. The company thought they could hire cheap and simply cross train and up-skill everyone. A FTSE 100 company. Eg a dev manager was a js dev now managing half the 200 odd dev dept. Hired mostly PHP devs who were all going to be cross trained as Go devs. My last manager had no management experience and was also the dept's Go tech lead, with no Go experience - a PHP dev, now starting at amazon, should be entertaining. Another Go dev on the team an ex-lawyer with two years dev experience as a ruby dev. The place was disorganised, frustrating, and not delivering. Toward the end of last year people started leaving, then more, then more - exodus. The dept has effectively collapsed as it's now a fraction of the size and a significant proportion of the remaining devs are new. It won't absolutely collapse because like all big corps they'll just keep hiring replacements and eventually paper over the cracks. They're now "restructuring", but the same rookies are still running the show so they're probably just going to botch it all over again, just in a different way.

This is a handy pocket guide. Quite seriously, start looking around if your gut is telling you to.


When growth numbers are consistently not hit. Always push for transparency at a smaller company - if there isn't one already, attempt to implement an all-hands meeting at least bi-weekly that reviews goals for the quarter / year and the company's progress. If direction is constantly changing at a 1 or 2 month cadence, it's likely that there may be a shakeup coming sooner rather than later.

It's wise to have a bit of cynicism when discussing company goals, progress, outcomes - things may not always be as bright as they seem. It's a good exercise to take these numbers and reduce them by a certain percentage, and see if those numbers are still good for company growth & stability.

That's the prime indicator from what I've read here. Growth to take over new markets is whole point of most startups. I'll add that Jessica Livingston's answer in an interview on main thing differentiating founders' successes vs failures was amount of focus. The failed ones got distracted chasing all sorts of activities or sub-goals that weren't measurably helping them achieve the real ones (esp growth). They were just burning cash. The successful ones constantly tried to do anything they could to make something that would achieve growth they wanted.

Users massively adopting the product with or without a lot of revenue depending on the game plan seems to be the prime metric after a certain amount of time has passed.

It's really hard to tell as an employee.

Management can blow sunshine at these kind of meetings and you'd need second sight to see the truth.

Last time I was at a company that suddenly imploded everything was great one week, and then a week later half the staff got laid off.

That's true. Stats can be cherry-picked or distorted. That's why it's preferable to choose the goals / metrics at the start of the period so that other metrics can't be cherry-picked based on what might show "good" growth to employees.

I've read that a good way to get an early indicator of future health is to pay attention to the spending on the small things.

Does your company have paid lunches?

Does it have a snack vending machine or something similar?

A coffee machine with k-cups?

Other little perks that seem insignificant but are nice to have.

If these things start to go away, the company is experiencing financial stress.

However, if these things never were there in the first place, it just means that you're not in the SV bubble.

Yeah, here in St Paul, we get only coffee paid for and we're quite healthy, I think. Not everywhere gets a smorgasbord of free food and snacks and I'm not convinced it's a worthwhile expense.

Have you ever experienced it? I used to think it was silly, too, but I've come to appreciate the convenience of not having to buy and pack my own snack items. It's also much cheaper than salary and benefits to extract extra work out of younger and naive developers. Sorta like giving the newly hired former intern the title "senior engineer."

It's not these specific things, it's losing trivial things that are supposed to be quality of life improvements. They're not saying any company that doesn't offer these is in trouble, they're saying any company that offers these, and then takes them back is in trouble.

While I think that the OP is correct - I also agree with this. Working in the mid-west I've never seen stuff like this first hand :(

Steve Blank does a good job summarizing this and other related phenomena: https://steveblank.com/2009/12/21/the-elves-leave-middle-ear...

(and its corresponding HN thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5751329)

Outside of unicorn "SF / Silicon Valley Land" you don't see these perks at other companies. So this advice only applies to a very small subset of people.

I am laughing so hard right now.

The last company I worked at before it was acquired went through a phase of making everything 'legit' - which looking back on it now makes sense.

- Making sure that everybody had their work laptops/phones properly secured, requiring RSA tags for VPN access etc.

- Lots of new policies, mainly things that we did anyway, but just fully documented and meetings to make sure that everybody understood their roles in them.

- Lots more focus on 'customer satisfaction' and making sure that deadlines were met

- Rewards for helping to clear the backlog of things that needed doing

Basically, a lot of dotting the I's and crossing the T's. Oh, and a lot more visits from the head guys over in the US.

Edit: Not a startup, just a company doing well.

Being focused on customer satisfaction is probably always a good thing. Many of the other things you mentioned will also need to happen for other reasons, such as for EDP auditing and various kinds of certifications. Such certifications can be important for selling the company, but they can also be important for marketing and attracting customers.

Pretty sure things like this can happen for other reasons as well though, like when a company is going for it's next financing round.

Very true, I should have prefaced my comment above with "Not a startup"

I look at a few things. Company structure is quite telling. The relationship between teams, how teams work together. I usually get a good feel for any potential dysfunction in an organisation by this. The more splitting up and dividing there is going on, the more unhealthy it usually is. If the company is small enough, it should be self organising to some degree of success.

Other questions to consider:

- Are staff able to be honest?

- Is the company able to be honest with itself?

- Does the company have a vision that actually sells itself?

- Is the company actually pursuing that vision with it's actions?

- Does the company leverage the intelligence of it's employees, or does it just hand them work to perform?

My company's CEO says he looks at the survey answers to "Would you recommend Company X as a good place to work" as a health indicator of how the company's doing. Which makes sense to me, since if the employees overall would recommend it as a place to work, it's probably reasonably stable and rewarding, has reasonably trusted managers, etc.

I've never delved deep into actual statistics on this, though, so consider this just an anecdote.

Yup - that's an ENPS survey (more info-> https://www.fridayfeedback.com/enps-employee-net-promoter-sc...) and is modeled after the NPS survey organizations send to customers.

This is basically called Net Promoter Score or NPS. Often people use it for products and it's not a bad method for understanding how a company is doing from employees perspective.

When the CFO or high performing sales guys leave. They know what they money situation looks like and are going to be the first to leave when it get's rough.

If you can't get a straight answer from your manager, or your manager doesn't know, then the company isn't healthy.

Managers (a) love to brag about success and (b) it's their job to retain you, and part of retention is informing you about the company's financials.

It's totally okay to ask questions like 'how long can we survive if we don't grow' and 'how long does this continue before we close our doors or fire people'.

The good news is if you don't know about the health of the company you're probably too junior to be first on the chopping block.

If you're asking the harder question of 'are we going to be #3 in our sector in 5 years', you can't trust your managers on that one. They're too optimistic. Do serious competitive market research like you'd do when starting a company -- find a way to measure comparative sales, marketing activity, team strength. Read the linkedin pages of the leadership and key players and look for missing skillsets.

* Late payments to employees (checks, expense reports etc)

* Banker-looking people coming by

* Drawn out fund raising periods with promises every month that next month something will be announced.

* Churn in the C-suite or at VP level.

* Plants being carted away

One indicator I use is the bullshit level and its derivatives. You can define bullshit any way you like; my definition is "activity that adds no value to the company, or (worse) actively impedes people who are adding value to the company."

If the bullshit level is high, I think about leaving. If the first derivative of the bullshit level is also positive (bullshit is increasing) I lean heavily toward leaving. (If the first derivative is negative, the company might be healthy and pivoting after a setback.)

If both the first and the second derivatives of bullshit are positive (bullshit is not only increasing but accelerating) it's time to leave immediately.

Availability of information to analyze will depend on whether it's a public vs private company.

If it's a public company, an employee can look at the health in many of the same ways that Warren Buffet would look at it. Look at it's profit & loss statements for the last few years. If it took on debt, try to find out what the debt was used for. Look at the credit agencies' bond rating for the company. If it's not AAA, research why. Look at the company's major customers. Is it a growing marketplace?

If it's a private company, intelligence gathering is going to be harder and you often won't have good info until you actually work there. You can try to synthesize information from glassdoor, Google News (e.g. lawsuits, settlements, etc), and other sources.

>I mainly meant "startup" (i.e. not Fortune 500)

In this case, I would ask the hiring manager (often the founder) if the company is cash-flow positive. If not, ask how much "runway" is left before the company runs out of money. Some founders may push back with "I can't disclose financials, yada yada" ... maybe because of his paranoia about competitor espionage. You then have to ask yourself if you're willing to join a company with limited information. You can join a not-yet-profitable company because sometimes, it all works out. That said, the idea of concrete financial dialogue is to make the risks transparent to the employee.

If you're moving to a new open space office that looks for a visitor to be fantastic but is a pain to actually work in; if your company hires like crazy without a good idea of what new people will actually be working on; if a CTO that has been on-hands becomes distant and hires a level of middle technical managers — all that means that the company is trying to inflate it's value and be bought. Not necessarily a bad thing, but you can count on the culture shift pretty soon.

"Company" is a broad word, and can include a wide variety of different types of organizations - but if you're talking specifically about startups, look at the following:

Cash in the Bank / Burn Rate - How much cash does the company have? How much of that cash is it spending each month? How long until the company reaches profitability? Could the company be profitable now if it wanted to be?

Headcount - LinkedIn actually tracks this now. How has the total headcount of the company changed over time, particularly recently? Headcount is certainly not a measure of success, but a significant decrease in headcount may be a red flag.

Growth Rate - How fast is the company growing? Ideally you're looking at this in terms of revenue.

Unit Economics - Even if the company is growing, is it making money from every sale? Or is it "spending $1 to earn $0.95" ? Getting a handle on the bottoms-up unit economics of whatever the company is selling is important to really getting a picture of its overall health.

Grit of the Founders - This may be more important than everything else on the list! Every startup is going to feel - frequently - like it's in "bad health." Founders with determination, grit, and the ability to fight through the tough times will overcome a lot of the problems presented by other items on this list.

Benefit of being an employee in this scenario is that you have access to info outsiders don't. So take some of your metrics like headcount and unit economics and make them forward-looking: open job reqs and contract expirations perhaps.

Other things like grit of the founders can't really be controlled. That will never change for the life of a company.

It's all about the money. Cost cutting such as layoffs, no annual bonus, no more free snacks, shutting down promising projects.

When a company is doing well, it's usually the opposite.

Some other warning signs:

- When you get rid of your QA team in the name of "quality" with everyone being responsible for testing, but then never provide adequate testing resources or environments. And when quality and velocity inevitably drop, and everyone claims they want to improve quality, but it's never actually prioritized.

- More generally, when your company is saying one thing and doing another.

- When your executive team flat out lies, and doesn't even blink when questioned about it.

One tip I have from years in a company that was undergoing major changes in its business model is to pay attention to other workers. In my case, the shop floor guys at an automation company smelled the shift in the wind long before anyone else, and weren't afraid to call it out. When the vast majority (maybe 500-1k machinists) were let go in rapid succession, it was shocking...except if you'd paid attention.

Me and people close to me been a witness to a startup demise several times. In a startup it's really easy to tell - the product falls short of revenues/active users expectations, the funding starts to run out, the management starts to act frantic and invents all kinds of "creative" ways to "revive" the product, core team members start departing :)

I guess it would depend on the size and status of the company. What I mean by that, you would judge a startup 1-10 people that is privately held substantially differently than 1000+ employee publicly traded company. These indicators that you are looking for are going to be vastly different along the size spectrum of companies.

it does not directly state the health but it indicates if it is a good employer: number of interns : if the ratio is roughly 1:1 I would quickly look for another company

I think employees are a lagging indicator. If the product is being offered at all, look at customers.

If you're not customer-facing, talk to a customer-facing engineer or even account manager. "How's the X account?" "Tell me about a customer we've made successful." Don't accept "The account is fine." Drill down and ask for details; they're the only things that matter.

You're internal, so unless your company is really $&#+ed up and silo'd, you shouldn't have a problem getting a feel with a modicum of social skills.

If you're not making customers happy, and management is proceeding with business as usual, start looking for a new job.

One company I was at shipped a hardware product. The hardware would come in from the manufacturer, the techs on site would flash the firmware, apply stickers, and ship to customers. When I started they were shipping 10-15 boxes a day (this was easy to judge, they sat by the entrance and the UPS guy would come in and get them). Then a few month later, the senior sales guy left, and a new vp of sales was brought in. Over the course of a year, outgoing devices went to near zero. That's when I started looking. A year later the company was still alive, but limping with a skeleton crew of devs and techs. Most who stayed were fired.

The sales team are at the leading edge of product-market fit. I've found that their level of engagement, or success, or retention, is a great metric.

I do a simple version of a balanced scorecard:

1) Financial/Stakeholders - Are we raking in revenue? What type of revenue (high-touch, low-touch. high-volume/low-margin or low-volume/high-margin)? Are we consistently making this or is it totally dependent on the connections of 1-2 people? Can it be recreated? A bad sign is if people are being shifted to different projects all the time without one being totally completed/closed.

2) Customer/External Relationships - #1 is dependent on this. You can't make money with people giving you money. Do we have sufficient customers/market to provide the type of revenue needed? Do customers like us? What's the market feedback? A bad sign is if sales is overcommitting through the teeth about the products/services just to get them onboard.

3) Activities/Internal processes - #2 is dependent on this. You cant continually create things to sell and build customer relationships without a proper cycle of operations. Do we have processes? Does the process last long enough to get feedback? Or are the activities fickle and do not have solid implementations? A fishy sign is if there seems to be a totally new sales/engineering process every month, or isn't implemented rigidly and the org chart changes every 2 quarters.

4) Learning and growth (People-aspect) - Most important. #1, #2, #3 is dependent on this. You can't have processes/services/products without people. Based on the product/value that the company is providing to customers, are they valuing the people that creates this value? (training, leadership roles, ownership of product/services, etc.). Is there career growth for people that create this value? A fishy example would be: leadership positions in a product-based tech startup where there isn't at least one person with a history of software-engineering/operations and is instead filled with a group of salesmen. That startup would probably best be a consulting business, since the way things would be led hampers any kind of effort in building an effective product development pipeline/operation. Another bad sign for that type of startup is when key staff engineers are leaving, their positions are left empty and more managers are hired instead.


If there's none at all, then people likely are afraid to talk openly. When there's cynicism about everything (revenue goals, vision, hiring, retention, ...), that's a sign that most everybody has lost hope.

We have a weekly all-hands where major issues (good or bad) would be mentioned, and where we get an overview of all core metrics. We have a monthly all-hands where we go into detail on all the metrics and how each team's metrics build up to the overall company performance. We know how much we're targeting/getting in funding rounds. We can ask questions about any of this in one-to-ones with managers that happen fortnightly.

Basically we're pretty good at transparency, so most people just know all of this. It's a nice environment to work in!

I'm reading a lot of these answers and they could be describing companies that are hugely profitable and growing. Profitable companies cut back on coffee, have high turnover, cynical employees etc.

It really doesn't matter. Any company can blow up at any time due to fraud or mergers or whatever. You might get fired because your boss might want to replace you with their old college roommate. Or the CEO decides to kill your whole division because they're chasing some dumb fad.

And extremely fit people sometimes go on diets. But generally, someone on a diet isn't likely to be extremely fit.

A good bellwether for a startup is the sales force. They leave when there is no more money-making opportunity.

(Of course, a startup can still pivot to uncover opportunity.)

Look at churn (staff turnover). It's actually a question I ask in interviews. If churn is either extraordinarily high or low I want to know why.

In my case:

  * Stock price
  * Attitude of employees
  * Attitude of management
  * Statements and sometimes rumors heard around the office

Treat it as a learning opportunity. Three buckets to triage employees into: (o) the oblivious employees, (i) employees who step up and show initiative, and (ii) employees who decide to goof off and do nothing since some of the management chain is likely missing and not being replaced.

Companies that are successful are often unwilling to risk any element of their success and can be rigid/inflexible.

When evaluating startups there are few key matrices - financial stability - most notably runway. Taking funding and # of employees can give you a rough sense of things

- key people churn

- business traction graph - depending on the market you are in you can get some sense through similarweb and the likes

We took it to the next level at Yodas and provide detailed analysis. We help individuals make better, more informed career decisions.

I work at a startup and every second week we run an anonymous https://www.menti.com where all emplyees get to vote between 1-9 how happy they are at work. It's a simple metric that gives management some insight about how the company is going.

A simple one is growth. If you're at a startup, it needs to grow. If growth isn't what it should be, it's decelerating, or it's zero, that's trouble. Wait for 6-12 months (depending on size and stability of company), if it's not improving, start looking for other options.

At my last couple of jobs my raises and bonuses were getting smaller over the last year or two I was there even though the company was supposedly taking in more revenue. We weren't expanding or hiring anyone so I started looking for new jobs. Both went under within a year of me leaving.

My main thing is are they at all organised as a whole - if everything is in disarray and departments have no idea (or interest in) what the others are doing then it's likely going to be very painful. A company that is pulling in one direction is an exciting place.

How fragmented is the industry? A fragmented industry is waiting for a well capitalized player to consolidate small companies into a industry leader. How close the founder is to retirement... As the founder approaches age 65, he might be looking to cash out.

For public companies, it can be an easier task:

- If executive insiders are buying stock: a good sign!

- If executive insiders are selling stock: could be a good or bad sign (e.g., they might sell because they are purchasing a house.)

- If executive insiders are selling everything: very bad sign

Communication, how well are groups within the company communicating? Do groups tend to re-invent the wheel because they do not know about what other groups are doing?

Learning, what types of opportunities are employees given to develop skills and learn new skills?

The free-food patterns don't apply on a company which is frugal by nature, e.g. Amazon

Make friends with whoever does accounts payable. In many companies, paying vendors later than agreed terms would be the first sign of trouble. Companies will often do that before anything directly visible to employees.

I heard Trump did this to many of his contractors.

I would guess it happens at every company when financial struggles arise. It's the easiest lever to pull.

Quality of snacks

or presence of snacks.

and absence of burnt palapas

One company I worked for (international) had the new CIO visit our office. He said "don't worry there will be no layoffs". Two week later they started and shortly the whole office was gone.

Generally, when a paycheck bounces, it's a bad sign. Now, in my experience, the company didn't die for another year after the bounced paychecks, but it was definitely writing on the wall!

When senior people that you have a personal relationship with, who are no higher than first level managers and not necessarily managers at all, tell you that the company is dying. Been there twice.

I work for a fairly large manufacturing company in Japan (about 15k employees). I don't think it will go bankrupt, but I think it is unhealthy and will eventually be automated with most people being made to leave, or it will lose a fairly large chunk of its market share and be dismembered and rebuilt by the American office.

Some things I observed that led me to doing a job search.

> Insurmountable Recruiting difficulties

I was promised a team of 5 junior devs under myself, but that never happened. There was always a new process, or a new form that had to be filled out; they got filled in and nothing happened.

Eventually the company started projects to hire people with disadvantaged career histories (Chinese / Korean residents, women who had left their previous job after pregnancy, et cetra). I felt this was a great policy but I was eventually clued into the real origin of the policy and why I never got the team I was promised.

Apparently, we had (and still have) an excessively poor reputation. Not criminal; just in terms of leadership (at all levels), salary and work load. Successful mid-career job seekers could not be expected to join. As such, disadvantaged workers and the lowest level of university graduate comes (the kind who has "Tennis Club" as a prominent part of their university "experience"). My lack of experience at large Japanese corporations is also why I didn't have the foresight to check 2chan or Vorkers (glassdoor-like company in Japan)

> New Emmanuel Goldsteins on a regular basis.

"We would be great but... is terrible" is a constant refrain at these sorts of companies. You can fill in the blank with a C-Level executive, a new employee, or a clique in the office. If you are assigning real people in a capitalist enterprise the role of "villain", then the environment is not going to improve. It is like saving a marriage after you tell friends to take sides.

> Inappropriate focus on loyalty

I have literally experienced a C-level officer making these statements in a work environment, about people who are so low in rank so as to be below his level of concern. If a junior accountant leaves for a better position at another company, one with less stress and better pay, it is the obvious and correct decision, not an act of "disloyalty".

> No objective source of truth or success

While I ran a business previously, I could be convinced by objective measures of truth (profit being #1). At my current office, there is no single source of truth, nor a single measure of success. This creates a difficult spiral of wasted time and effort when starting projects; in the end, calling in "outsiders" to resolve the issue (by giving them superuser access over the project structure) simply delays the hard questions (who is in charge / gets credit & blame / by what measure are we doing something), and further infantilizes the office.

> Senior people left and were never replaced

Literally the second most senior person in my part of the org left and wasn't replaced for more than 2 years. Junior managers reported straight to the C-suite. His eventual replacement lacked his depth of knowledge and greatly damaged the collegial atmosphere that existed within the Japanese team before her hire.

> Easy things are difficult

There are X (where X is a number greater than 5) different approval processes for me to pay a vendor who has already finished the work.

No news is bad news. If you stop hearing about new developments, the reality is almost certainly bad.

Looking back to a few layoffs, that was a common sign. I think I can spot it next time.

The usually open CEO suddenly starts having closed door meetings.

This could also be sign of the opposite depending on the circumstances. For startups, founders want an exit when the company is at its healthiest.

Usually the biggest indication is cutting salary and benefits, I'm including not giving raises as a salary cut. Cutting vacation days is definitely a salary cut.

Free food :). The last Fortune 500 I worked at the number of meetings with food provided was highly correlated with how well the stock performed durring earning.

Sales = Company health When the company is not able to make $$ due to bad product, employee turnaround, Sales or culture it is in bad health.

Cutting vacation days was mentioned. I'm wondering if switching from fixed vacation days to unlimited is also a sign of penny-pinching.

Glassdoor reviews.

Users and revenue.

User and revenue growth rate.

One bad sign is if the CEO is replaced. Another bad sign is if the company can't figure out how to make money.

Status of accounts payable - is the company stretching out payments to vendors? Are vendors getting angry or lawyering up?

marketing team slices its customers pool into : customer-we'll-soon-contact, potential customers, potential leads, short-list-customers, customers with who we have very good relationships, customers who'll introduces to even bigger customers. You get it, many types of customers except the paying-type...

Executive engagement, number of open job reqs, revenue goals (not necessarily growth or metrics of past)

If you find yourself asking questions like this, that's a sign something might be awry.

If you are not asking questions like this, you may just be one of the willfully oblivious ditch diggers who is just there to work. And that's fine.

Even in the days of galley slaves, there was probably only a small percentage of rowers who actually wondered where they were going. Most people just shut up and row.

CFO left a year after IPO. Then we had things that seemed like busy work.

I would look at Culture and Financial. A lot of other things are fixable.

They ask you for a list of all the passwords you control.

turn over.

A "normal turn over" in IT is 10%

In normal companies it is less.

If more, flee.

Glassdoor reviews

Simple answer: Any startup that isn't profitable isn't healthy.

More importantly, any company that has negative marginal profit, is definitely not healthy (i.e. Uber)

The easist method is by trend in employee count. If headcount is rising, that's a good indicator, if it's falling, that's generally bad. Stable can be perfectly fine, or bad, depending on the company. You may have concerns about the magnitude of growth, or claim lay-offs were justified or turnover is natural, but the trend generally holds.

You should also pay attention to other employees; ask yourself why folks who leave are leaving. This seems easy, but I know one start-up well where a small trickle of occasional high-level departures turned into an eventual flood and bankruptcy.

Beyond that, it's the usual. Anything you can tell about sales growth, competitive intensity, leadership, etc. are all helpful and good data points.

Rising headcount is not necessarily a good sign. To the contrary, it's often a sign that the company is haemorrhaging cash, hoping that if they hire enough staff something magic will happen before time runs out.

There's also the idea that head count can signal revenue, or expected revenue. Companies looking to be bought can go on hiring sprees to appear more healthier to potential buyers. I experienced this at one company, when the new owner installed their CEO, the first thing he did was slash head count.

Head Count growing exponential is usually a warning sign for tech-debt.

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