Employer Branding has taken on greater importance to Human Resources professionals over the past several years as talented job seekers exercise greater discretion in choosing their future employers. The information age has not only made it easier for consumers to research products before they buy, but also for job seekers to research companies before they apply. The best workers are no longer willing to just accept a job at face value. They will use the internet and social media to find out about a company’s workplace from current and former employees. Companies can no longer exaggerate claims about their employer value proposition on their websites, at presentations, or during interviews. Today’s job seekers will use their social networks to quickly verify a company’s claims. No longer can a recruiter or hiring manager simply “sell” only the good aspects of the job or workplace without being questioned by job seekers who want to know how the company is addressing the bad aspects.
For decades, companies have expected and required that job seekers be transparent during the application and interview process. Companies do not mince words when they state that any employment offer is contingent upon successful completion of a background check. It has always been assumed that the potential employee is the only one with the inclination to exaggerate their accomplishments – or flat out lie. For some reason, companies have not been held to the same standard by which they hold job seekers. Job seekers expect companies to be candid about their work environment as well as the duties of the job description. It should be an accepted practice that candidates receiving job offers give employers a document stating that their acceptance of an offer or continued employment is contingent upon a successful background check of the companies’ workplace and job description. Shouldn’t background checks be a two-way street? Many companies embellish job descriptions, career opportunities, and the workplace environment in order to lure top candidates to apply but are not held accountable for any major discrepancies of their claims.
The gap in expectations between job seekers and companies calls for greater transparency from companies regarding their workplace. This includes all of the key metrics used to measure how companies manage, develop, and treat their employees. Social media has already laid bare many of the barriers keeping job seekers from validating whether or not a future employer is being transparent. Even companies have taken advantage of social media to do “inexpensive” background checks on potential employees. Therefore, unflattering information posted online about both job seekers and companies can greatly influence the outcome of the recruitment process. Companies need to produce transparent metrics that objectively measure the statements they make on their websites and during talent acquisition processes. This will allow job seekers to make informed decisions based on objective data. It will also place greater emphasis on a company’s ability to optimize the statistics used to measure their workplace environment. The metrics will be clearly stated in the number of highly qualified applicants and the retention rate of high performance employees.
The majority of companies do not provide measurable data that corroborates their “sales” pitch to potential employees as a great place to work. While external surveys that measure a company’s employer brand are useful for a company, the prospective candidate or the pending employee has little factual data on an employer’s workplace to analyze prior to accepting a job. Companies exasperate this problem by not being more transparent and sharing the actual internal data of key employer and workplace metrics. In the social media age this is a dangerous practice that could lead to higher recruitment and retention costs. Companies are far more transparent in their annual reports than they are in their workplace reports. Potential investors have loads of quantitative data to pore over; replete with plans and strategies to address pending challenges and future aspirations. But the same does not hold true for potential employees seeking the best work environments in which to invest their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Gaps in workplace expectations are created at the usual point of origin which is the company’s website. If companies promote and “sell” aspects of their workplace that they really do not value, then they are setting up an expectations gap with potential employees. Information on a company’s website is akin to the information that job seekers put on their rsums in that they are both expected to be truthful and transparent. When information on either of these representations of the company and the job seeker are found to be untrue then both parties will suffer penalties. In the case of the job seeker, he can expect that he will be excluded from further consideration of employment. In the case of the company, it can expect that the job seeker will exclude it from further consideration. In the worse case, a talented new-hire quits the company after a few months because of a company’s workplace misrepresentation. Fifteen years ago an incident of this nature would not get publicized in a way that would affect a company’s employer brand – but things are different in the current social media age.
Social Media Validation
Today’s social media explosion ensures that companies must pay attention to how they treat job seekers throughout the entire lifecycle of the recruitment process and beyond. It has never been easier for job seekers to do thorough background checks on companies that include talking to former employees on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, school alumni networks, etc.) and reading online employer reviews on Glassdoor and Jobitorial. Just as companies analyze rsums and do thorough background checks on potential employees, likewise do the savvy job seekers on the company’s employer brand. And while most companies focus on the known talent acquisition metrics as a measure of success, the metric that should concern them most is the one that cannot be measured – the number of high potential candidates who do not apply (or accept a job offer) because of negative reviews made on social media sites. We no longer live in the time of “Buyer Beware” but the time of “Buyer Aware”.
There was a time when the owner of a poorly designed car could only complain to his own personal network. Now, this same car owner can complain to millions by posting his user experience on any number of online car review sites.
Looking at the example of how social media has transformed consumer purchases of products and services, companies must beware the effects that current and former employees can have on their employer brands. Sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, and CNET list large numbers of products that are reviewed and rated by consumers. Sites such as Expedia and Trip Advisor allow consumers to rate their hotel and travel experience. The amount of negative comments listed for any particular product or service can have dire consequences on its future sales and reputation due to the speed at which information travels on the social network. Once word of a product flaw or service failure spreads across the social network it is hard for a company to undo the damage. A company’s employer brand is now evaluated the same way with potential candidates having access to more and more information about a company’s workplace than ever before.
It has always been accepted practice for an employer to do background checks on a prospective employee before finalizing a hire. In the past, background checks were a one-way street and the only way you could know about a company was to read its brochures and talk to its recruiters. Nowadays, the internet and social media have made it easier for prospective candidates to bypass company-produced information and go straight to the people who will tell them the raw facts – former employees. If there is too much inconsistency between what a company’s propaganda and recruiters say versus what former employees say then there is cause for concern. This can have a negative effect on the attraction, hiring, productivity, and retention of new hires. Furthermore if the company’s current employees are not actively championing the employer brand or referring potential talent to managers then a company could soon find itself having higher recruitment costs along the value chain of the talent acquisition process.
Social media have ushered in a new era of culture change that starts from the bottom up. Disillusioned current and former employees have the ability to affect a company’s bottom line beyond its ability to attract highly-productive job seekers. The companies who have mechanisms in place to detect workplace issues that affect productivity will be successful, while those that do not will face ever rising costs to attract and retain talent. A culture of transparency will help to reduce many of the issues that produce negative employee sentiment in a company’s workplace. Oftentimes it is the problems that are not openly discussed that are the greatest threat to a workplace environment. Today’s job seekers have grown up in an era of increased calls for transparency in government, academia, and corporations. Employees are stakeholders in their company’s success and want to work in an environment that values their contribution. When management and employees work together to improve their workplace for the good of the business then it is a win-win. Managing employee sentiment is a business strategy that will pay dividends in a company’s employer brand value.
7 Workplace Transparency Traits
Below are the 7 workplace traits that employers should quantify and make objectively transparent to prospective job seekers and current employees. For each trait, companies should make every effort to list comparative data dating back to the previous 3 years at a minimum. Job seekers and employees alike want to be able to measure their company’s progress towards addressing issues that limit productivity.
1. Employee Engagement Reports (EER)
The surveys that measure employee engagement go by many names including “Organizational Health Surveys”, “Global People Surveys”, and “Voice of the Employee”. It is understandable that a company with a low overall engagement score will not want to publish this information on their website. But at the same time, this is the very reason why new recruits feel misled after experiencing a less than stellar work environment. A company experiencing high turnover of high productivity workers should work hard to address any issues in its workplace practices. Many companies do not publish any metrics from their EER. Some only publish the percentage of their workforce that completed the survey. For the surveys to have any validity there must be a 100% participation rate. Otherwise, an 80% completion rate could be interpreted as the remaining 20% being “disengaged employees” by default.
It is important that a job seeker know whether or not he’ll be working in a functional or dysfunctional workplace. The transparent companies must not only publish one EER metric, but they should publish the results of the key questions and scores that would most affect a job seeker’s decision to apply. At a minimum, the survey results to the following questions should be listed:
- Would employees refer the company to potential candidates?
- How do their employees feel about the company’s direction?
- How do their employees feel about the company’s leaders?
- How do their employees feel about the company’s people practices?
- How do their employees feel about their own career prospects?
2. Work-Life Benefits (WLB)
Work-Life Benefits are very important to all employees regardless of their age. It entails creating practices that facilitate flexibility in working hours to incorporating the life changes of an employee in ways that maximize productivity. Many companies state that they observe work-life balance issues. But it seems that most companies offer work-life benefits grudgingly as if only to keep up with their competitors. It can become clear very quickly to a new-hire if a company truly values work-life balance. It is easy to observe the workplace cultures that frown upon employees who request a flexible schedule, sabbatical, or leave of absence – or that covertly punish employees who requests time off to care for a child or elderly relative. Companies that invest in work-life benefits and have strategies to manage their effects on business outcomes will be the winners in the bid to attract and retain high-performance workers.
The transparent company should publish more than just broad and appealing statements about WLB’s. They should publish the key metrics that prove that those benefits are encouraged and supported by the company. At a minimum the following questions and accompanying metrics should be published:
- What is the annual number of employees requesting time off for childcare or elderly care?
- What is the annual number of employees requesting flexible work schedules versus how many requests are actually granted?
- What is the annual number of employees requesting telecommuting work schedules versus how many requests are actually granted?
- What is the annual number of employees requesting sabbaticals and leaves of absence versus how many of those requests are granted?
- What is the annual number of exempt employees who state by survey that they feel pressure to work past normal working hours?
3. Volunteering and Social Investments (VSI)
Corporate Social Responsibility has been viewed with greater importance for multiple stakeholders during the past decade. It is no longer just for investors and government regulators, but also for job seekers and employees. Companies have seized on this phenomenon to not only attract and retain Gen-Y recruits but also to build their brands and businesses in the communities in which they operate. What started out as philanthropy from the corporate coffers has transformed into a powerful force for social change and development. While companies tout on their websites all the organizations they support and how many volunteer hours per year they contribute to various causes, what doesn’t get clearly communicated is how employee volunteer activities are valued, promoted, and supported by the company. It is also not always clear how a company’s social investments are aligned with its business or values. Companies that make social investments purely for tax purposes or for compliance reasons risk diminishing their authenticity and employer brand. Job seekers who are active in volunteer activities and community programs can quickly discover whether or not it is promoted and valued in the employer’s workplace.
The transparent company should show the connection between company-supported volunteer activities and career enhancement/advancement. Instead of showing cumulative annual volunteer hours and financial investment in various organizations, data to the following questions should be published:
- What is the annual number of employees at each level of the company who volunteer?
- What is the annual number of employees requesting company support for volunteer activities versus those who are actually granted support?
- What is the annual number of employee volunteers who receive company support (financial, time off, facilities, etc.)?
- What is the annual number of employee volunteers (and volunteer hours) supporting company-sponsored organizations?
- What is the performance management rating of employees who volunteer for at least 3 years versus those who did not during that same time period?
4. Career Mobility and Development (CMD)
Career Mobility and Development are important factors that many of the top job seekers take into consideration when evaluating potential employers. Mobility has taken on a broader definition in the global economy and now includes geographic mobility in addition to inter and intra-company mobility. Some companies have programs that allow employees to do short-term assignments with selected suppliers or service providers. Employee development includes both formal training and performance management discussions. Training and development of employees is essential to a company’s continued competitiveness. Most companies publish the number of formal training hours per year or the number of employees receiving formal training per year. Some even publish the number and percentage of employees working internationally as well as the percentage of employees receiving formal performance management discussions. But these metrics do little to prove to a job seeker that a company values mobility and development. Job seekers who value mobility and development won’t be patient with companies that don’t have clear policies on giving high-achieving employees the best opportunities.
The transparent company should show a clear link between development, performance, and mobility. Instead of showing the general number of training hours and number of employees working internationally that don’t target any specific employee segments; data to the following questions should be published:
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees who request international assignments versus the employees who actually receive international assignments?
- What is the annual number of employees at various grade levels who work internationally?
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees receiving performance management reviews?
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees who improved their performance over their prior year’s review?
- What is the annual number of employees receiving formal training that was identified during performance management discussions?
5. Diversity and Inclusion (DAI)
Diversity & Inclusion practices have greatly changed in form and function since they first became part of the corporate lexicon. A company’s ability to integrate the various generations, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientation, education, experiences, ideas, personalities, lifestyles, and other unique attributes can significantly impact its bottom line as well as employer brand. The vast majority of large companies have DAI programs. However, they fail to give any meaningful metrics on their DAI programs that would be useful to prospective job seekers. Most limit their DAI metrics to the number of women and disabled employees hired. What doesn’t get communicated in a measurable way is how a company’s complete definition of a diverse workforce is distributed throughout the workplace.
Job seekers expect a workplace where they are able to interact with diverse people in an environment where they can maximize their unique attributes. At a minimum, the transparent company should publish the metrics that validate their definitions of diversity and inclusion by publishing data to the following questions:
- What is the annual number and percentage of people representing different age groups across various management levels?
- What is the annual number and percentage of women and ethnic minorities across various management levels?
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees who state they are able to contribute their knowledge, skills, and abilities in the workplace?
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees who say they feel pressure to conform to a corporate identity when they enter the workplace?
- What are the annual metrics used by the company to show the results and impacts of specific programs that promote and leverage an inclusive workplace?
6. Web 2.0 Technologies (W2T)
With the ubiquity of social media, companies need to find ways to integrate the power of these collaborative technologies into their workplace practices. In the beginning of the social media boom most companies sought to block these technologies on their intranets for fear of diminished worker productivity. Time has proven that to be a huge mistake and many companies have embraced these technologies and upgraded their own internal intranets to include social media-styled collaboration between their employees. A lot of companies publicize that they have collaborative work environments but very few actually encourage and make use of collaborative technologies accessible by their entire workforce. If a company’s intranet has not been upgraded with Web 2.0, then it will be apparent to potential employees (and current ones) that the company is behind the technological curve. Job seekers (especially early career job seekers) are accustomed to communicating with their online social networks distributed across many countries. And this habit won’t vanish after they become an employee.
It’s important that job seekers know whether or not their prospective workplace utilizes Web 2.0 technologies. For many job seekers, their ability to maximize their performance is based on their access to their personal and professional social networks. At a minimum, the transparent company should publish the metrics that validate their embrace and strategic use of W2T’s by publishing data to the following questions:
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees who are actively using the company’s Web 2.0 technologies?
- What is the annual number of employee groups, discussions, connections, voip communications, file shares, and wikis on the W2T intranet?
- What is the survey results rating how useful the company’s W2T is to employees’ jobs?
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees at each management level who actively W2T?
- What are the annual metrics showing how a company measures the business impact of its Web 2.0 network?
7. Rewards and Recognition (RAR)
Many companies realize the benefits of recognizing employees who perform exceptional work and duly publish their reward and recognition programs on their websites. Most only publish that they recognize high achievers or the name of specific rewards available. Having formal programs can motivate employees to perform at a high level and nurture a performance-based culture. Many early career job seekers in the professional world have been accustomed to competing for individual and team accolades since their youth. They expect to work with companies that recognize their achievements with more than just a bonus check or salary increases because peer recognition is just as valued. Companies that only pay lip service to rewards and recognition programs risk alienating or losing high achievers.
Job seekers that desire to be recognized for their above-average contributions in the workplace need to know whether or not a company values RAR. The transparent company should show more than just a list of RAR programs. At a minimum, data to the following questions should be published:
- What is the annual number and percentage of employees receiving RAR at different status levels in the company?
- What are the metrics showing the number and percentage of RAR recipients across diversity (including geographic location, department, etc.) measures?
- What are the metrics showing how RAR programs are integrated into the performance management process?
- What are the metrics that measure employees’ evaluation of RAR as a retention tool?
- What is the performance management rating of employees who received RAR for at least 3 years versus those who did not during that same time period?
Workplace Transparency will play a key role in a company’s ability to win the war for talent. A company’s workplace transparency strategy supports its Employer Brand Strategy. As the top job seekers become more discerning in their employer selections, the companies that provide objective and quantifiable workplace data will be positioned to offer an employer value proposition targeted to the unique needs of diverse job seekers and employees.
A company’s survival will depend upon its ability to make full use of its employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in a way that supports strategic plans and goals. Companies that have a workplace transparencystrategy will be able to:
1) Address the metrics honestly and discuss plans to improve (or maintain) them.
2) Allow job seekers to see where the company falls short (or scores well) and adjust their expectations accordingly.
3) Attract job seekers who bring solutions to address specific workplace issues (or who value specific workplace practices).
4) Defend themselves against negative employer reviews on social media by showing their plans and strategies to address workplace challenges.
Companies that are transparent with their workplace metrics show job seekers their openness and willingness to accept feedback and criticism. Employers expect job seekers to be open and transparent during the recruitment process and job seekers expect the same courtesy. There are no winners when there is a poor match between the employee and employer. Besides the negative feelings from both parties, there is also the ripple effect of damage to employee morale, loss productivity, and high turnover among many others. It is a far better value proposition for employers to provide the same level of transparency in the key workplace traits that job seekers and current employees value. When companies treat job seekers and employees with the same level of importance as they treat stock market investors, they can expect to receive higher than average returns on their human capital investments.