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How Employer Reputation Affects Senior Executive Careers (and Why Bad Glassdoor Reviews Matter)

Posted by Bob Corlett on October 29, 2017

How does your employer's reputation affect your career? Executive recruiters know quite a bit more about that question than you might expect. 

We're in the room when hiring managers decide who to interview, so we know how outsiders perceive the people who work for your organization. It's common for hiring managers to attribute the company’s reputation to everyone who works there. We also conduct the social media background checks as part of our due diligence, so we know when your (formerly private) management matters become all-too-public.

Conversely, for you hiring managers reading, we know precisely how responsive candidates are to your job opportunities. We see first-hand how job seekers are more eager to respond to job opportunities from highly reputable organizations, and how they shy away from organizations with bad reviews on employer review sites. 

As hiring process experts, it's our job to know exactly how your Glassdoor score affects your abilty to recruit, and how your employer's current reputation will affect your own ability to land your next job. 

What Executive Recruiters Know

In a small organization, one poor leader can accumulate so many negative reviews that the entire organization looks like a bad place to work.

So let's dive into what this all means and what you can do to be a good steward of your employment brand. 

First, what do "employer reputation" and "employment brand" even mean?

Is your employer reputation the same as your value proposition to your employees? (Some aspect of what you are offering your employees in career advancement, work environment, or salary and benefits?) Or is it your reputation in the community? (This is sometimes referred to as your "social license to operate.")

Or is it something else?

A few years ago Glassdoor made a distinction between Apple's "employer brand" and their  "workplace reputation." In practice, I don't find that particular distinction to be useful. (The distinction between Apple's "consumer brand" and their "employer brand" is more helpful--it's quite different to be an Apple customer vs. an Apple employee.)

CEO efforts to define mission and cultural values, or promote corporate social responsibility are incredibly worthy tasks. As are HR teams diligent efforts to provide a great work environment and comprehensive benefits. But ultimately your reputation as an employer is less about your efforts and more about your results--how your management practices make your employees feel--and therefore your reputation is not completely under your control. Your actions matter, but your employees choose how they feel. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos observed, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room." And the "room" for that discussion is now websites like Glassdoor.   

Are you part of the conversation, or being left behind?

Before you discount online employer reviews as untrustworthy, look at the research. An astonishing 98% of online shoppers read product reviews before deciding what to buy. And the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that people are far more likely to trust anonymous reviewers than the organization's CEO. Looking at individual Yelp reviews of restaurants or reading Amazon reviews of products is an interesting phenomenon -- you are both judging the reviewer as well as the thing they are reviewing. Yet it's often the aggregate of the information that proves fairly helpful, which is why we all continue to rely on review sites.

Which is why it's time to get familar with the top employer rating sites. Do your employee reviews on reputation sites reflect the organizational culture you are trying to create? Without the benefit of feedback from employer review sites, you might never know how your hard work on culture and employee engagement is being received.

And ignoring them means you are only hearing part of the story about your reputation as an employer. For example, you will never meet the candidates who chose not to apply to your open job. And unless your exit interview process is extraordinary, you will rarely know the real reason why your current employees quit. Because most candidates want to preserve their good references, so they offer bland reasons for leaving like, "I found a job closer to home." To get beyond exit interviews, you can learn more about the root causes of employee turnover here.

Do you know what your employees are saying about you? Or how your organization stacks up against other employers who would love to hire away your top employees? Or how future potential candidates will react to your online reviews?  Or what your next employer or your current board of directors might think when they read about your management practices on Glassdoor?

Like it or not, all of that anonymous information posted online is now your employer reputation, and you would be wise to carefully steward it. 

"Your employer's online reviews might be the first (and last) impression
outsiders form about your organization. (Click to Tweet.)

What's Causing Employer Reputation to Become More Important Now?  

Several powerful social trends are at work making Glassdoor one of the fastest growing career sites, with more visitors than CareerBuilder. From Amazon to Yelp, reviews are everywhere, and for every purpose. Glassdoor may not always remain the dominant force in employer reputation management, but employer reviews are here to stay -- the forces supporting their rise are simply too powerful. 

Glassdoor and other social media brands like Facebook heavily promote social engagement because the more friends you bring to the party, the more money they make. (As they say in Silicon Valley, "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." )

For Glassdoor-style reputation sites, increasing the number of reviews makes the site more useful, and, in turn, all those comments make commenting more socially acceptable. Reviews are now democratized, no longer limited to the professional, the eccentric, or the snob. For participants, posting a review is empowering. Commenting is seen as a social good. It's not seen as revenge, but as fulfilling a duty to warn others. Your employer's online reviews might be the first (and last) impression outsiders form about your organization

How do Review Sites Affect Recruiting? 

To deal with a bad reputation, you must first understand the mechanics of how people process this kind of information. People don’t believe everything they read, but they do often seek information that supports their thinking. The more data points someone has to back their opinions, the more certain that opinion becomes. To be prepared, read:

What's the Cost of a Bad Reputation?

Wade Burgess, writing for the Harvard Business Review, conducted research on company reputation, finding that "...the top three factors that contribute most to a bad reputation as a place to work are concerns about job security, dysfunctional teams, and poor leadership. The top three factors associated with a good reputation as an employer are stability, opportunities for career growth, and the ability to work with a top-notch team." The research showed that employers with poor reputations paid as much as a 10% premium in salary to attract top performers, and, "Nearly half of the people surveyed would entirely rule out taking a job with a company that exhibited the top three negative employer brand factors, regardless of any pay increase. Even a 10% raise would only tempt 28% of them to join such a company." 

Of course, the cost of poor leadership and dysfunctional teams is far more than a salary premium to attract new employees, it also includes the cost of poor performance and employee turnover. 

Candidates notice the employers that are constantly recruiting (for the same positions). Sometimes more recruiting has the potential to make an underlying problem much, much worse for you.

A few years ago, the caliber of your management team wasn't a public matter. Your internal disagreements stayed private. Outsiders rarely knew whether or not you had few bad apples on your leadership team. Frankly, if most of your managers were good, you could get away with a few who were not-so-good. HR only needed (or wanted) to intervene if you were going to be sued. It was a pretty low bar.

Now those days are gone. Having 80 percent good (or good-ish) managers doesn't cut it anymore. In a small organization, one poor leader can accumulate so many negative reviews that the entire organization looks like a bad place to work.

"Your employer brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And the "room" is websites like Glassdoor." (Click to Tweet)

How Can you Protect Your Employment Brand from Anonymous Reviews?

First, be very careful who you allow to drive around in your employment brandWhen you engage an executive search firm, you hand over your reputation as an employer. You have authorized the search consultant to represent you for the duration of their engagement. That's like handing over the keys to your car...with your name emblazoned on the side of it.  

Second, although online reviews can feel like you are receiving a very public 360 degree performance review from your harshest critics, beware of responding online. Your online commenter might actually be an internet troll, and never feed the trolls. So here is a bit of perspective about how you might want to respond to those negative Glassdoor reviews.

In two decades of work with thousands of association and nonprofit leaders, we now know that recruiting, performance management, employee retention, employer reputation, and board relationships can no longer be handled as separate issues. Treating each component separately ignores how inextricably intertwined they have become. Your public reputation as a manager, the ability to meet your performance targets, and ultimately your relationship with the board all stem from hiring people who fit in and get results in your environment.

Download our free Viewpoint Document on "The Glassdoor Impact: How Employer Review Sites Affect Recruiting Results" to learn practical, low-cost strategies to regain control of your reputation, and improve your recruiting results.

Glassdoor- How Employer Review Sites Affect Recruiting Results

Topics: Career Advice, Employer Reputation, Executive Search