Employer Branding. Think of the crisp promotional video. An office of smiling beautiful people. The endless list of benefits. A startling array of awards. Fantastic reviews by employees. And impressive social media shares by the same employees on how incredible the company is to work for.
Yet why the high staff turnover? What about the disgruntled ex-employees? How comes they’re always hiring, but never seem to grow as a company? And why is it that that part is strategically well hidden from any potential new employees?
You may be wondering why write a post on this? Doesn’t it sound a bit negative? However, there is an irritating trend that we find from recruiting in the industry. Increasingly companies that have great employer branding don’t always have a great reputation to work for. In fact, some seem to have frankly awful reputations to work for. Sure, others are indeed great employers. But the problem is that unlike advertising on television for example that is rooted in fact, because it is tightly regulated, employer branding isn’t.
You can make false promises, inflated claims and misleading presentations that do not reflect your business. The problem is that much of this branding is subjective. How many companies for example claim to have unrivalled progression? Unrivalled by who? How are you defining progression? Yet, there are tiny companies claiming in their branding that they offer unrivalled progression. Up what hierarchical structure exactly? Changing someone’s job title when the job is no different from the job title before is not career progression really is it?
Big companies often cite that they have “no politics”. How can that be proven? Where is the measurable evidence? Why feel the need to mention it in the first place? In a large company politics happen. If you employ people, politics will play some part. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just what happens in a business once it gets to a certain size. Sure, it needs to be managed. But claiming that it doesn’t happen is somewhere between ignorant and uninformed especially when there is no tangibility behind any such claim.
Competition for the best talent is high. Great candidates have their pick. Also, there is always some other company that will pay more on salary. Therefore, if you want to have any chance of attracting top talent you need to sell the living daylights out of your company.
The problem is that without regulation, but with subjective branding and clever marketing techniques, it doesn’t always reflect the reality.
Take political campaigns as an example. How many politicians have made promises and sold a vision that rallied the people only for their time in office to see none of those things come to fruition? It’s called propaganda.
Are some companies deliberately misleading people?
In my mind companies with great employer branding fall into three categories. The first are those that are great companies and can substantiate those claims with confidence. Interestingly their staff turnover is low, their growth is consistent, and their culture is authentic.
The second are those that are deceitful. They know they’re guilty of blatant exaggeration and uncorroborated claims. I would argue that these firms tend to get found out quickly, stay small and eventually fold quietly with their tales between their legs.
And the third group, and this covers many firms, don’t even realise that they are exaggerating the truth. For example, the board of Directors has become so disengaged with the feel of the company that they believe their own nonsense. They can confidently instruct the marketing department to fashion an elaborate and brilliant employer branding campaign to attract top talent to their wonderful organisation. In absolute conviction they can make claims so far from the truth that in some instances it verges on comedic value. Yet, that same board aren’t intentionally lying. It’s simply that they have no feel for the company. Nor does the marketing department.
And what is the result? An outstanding employer branding campaign that bears no relevance to the reality of the company.
What about employees who joined as a result?
Unsurprisingly they tend to leave fairly quickly. If you were sold “the dream” and it turns out to be nothing of the sort what would you do? Most people would look to move on.
How can you spot the jokers from the real deal companies?
The measure here is staff turnover. If the company has an above average staff turnover for their industry and it’s an ongoing trend, there is no smoke without fire. There is enough information about the facts on companies to spot a high staff turnover. For example, you can source a lot of this information online.
The other tell-tell sign is when you see promotional videos for companies on their Linkedin pages with interviews with their own staff. Stereotypically they seem to be the beautiful people of the office, but spot how many of those same people still work for the company. If you’re doing your homework on a potential employer take five minutes to check those names out. If most are gone and the video isn’t even that old, think about why that may be.
A vicious cycle
Put yourself in the shoes of a company with a high staff turnover in a competitive industry. To improve and grow you need to hire. But instead of hiring for growth you keep hiring to replace leavers. To avoid shrinking and going backwards you need to keep hiring, to keep replacing those that have left. In a competitive market the only way to do this is to really sell the hind legs off your company. But with what? A fantastic employer branding campaign of course. But if the employer branding bears no relevance to your company and you don’t even realise it, you’ll keep losing staff.
In the tradition of corporate feel companies,
the question of accountability comes up. Who is at fault? It should be the board who need to look at why they keep losing people. If exit interviewees are indicating that what was sold to them is notably different from the job reality, there is the problem identified.
However, many simply don’t wish to acknowledge the accuracy of exit interviews and simply put it down to the fact that the individual in question wasn’t a fit. A hiring mistake you could say. The incessant pursuit of replacement talent using a campaign to sell something which isn’t accurate continues and the cycle persists. If anyone is blamed, it is the manager who was responsible for the day to day activities of those that have left. “They didn’t manage their people correctly”.
The vicious cycle is that the root of the problem hasn’t been found or acknowledged. You end up with a disenfranchised culture, political cliques left right and centre and an ongoing staff turnover issue. But the accountability is being passed to the day to day manager down the ladder. If this happens it’s a bit like blaming the boats river captain for not being able to sail during a drought.
How should companies solve the problem?
Firstly, and most importantly identify and acknowledge the problem in the first place. The upper echelons of many larger companies are a swarm with people who will do almost anything to save their own skin. Due to the “Accountability Culture”, which exists in those same companies where mistakes aren’t forgiven but are instead a death sentences for a senior managers career, people will pass the buck wherever possible.
This is often the root of why, when company results go bad, it is the easily shafted and vulnerable middle management who take the brunt of redundancies first. Accountability can be easily placed on these people’s shoulders justifying their job losses. But if companies don’t adopt the death sentence accountability culture all too common in corporate feel companies, problems can be dealt with at source.
What should be embedded into these companies is that when mistakes happen, and they will, people should be held accountable for identifying and resolving the real problem without fear of retribution.
Great Employer Branding doesn’t always mean Great Employer
If TV advertising had no regulation imagine what claims would be made? On a visit to foreign lands that have less strict regulation on television advertising, you will see many examples of exaggerated claims. The problem is that with minimal regulation, social media appeal and a high degree of talent shortage the same extremities occur in employer branding.
If you watch several Linkedin employer branded videos back to back the list of uncanny similarities becomes almost amusing. The slick cinematography to make the office look crisp. Only pretty and handsome people for the closeups. Everyone is smiling. A bit of slow motion here. Some blurred to focused zoom effects there. Atmospheric music to add the right feel. Perhaps even a couple of wall quotes included to drive home the culture.
Furthermore, consider this irony. “We do things differently here”. How many companies say that? When you look at the facts it’s the same as most of the companies they compete with. There are no noteworthy differences in most cases.
My criticism with employer review sites is that they are open to bias and falsification. How many ex-employees will decide off their own back to write a positive review of their old company even if they liked working there? A minimal amount at best. How many disgruntled ex-employees will write a review about a past employer? A larger number I would argue. The problem here is that this wouldn’t give a fair balance as most reviews based on that logic would be negative.
Add to this that employers who have spent time and money on employer branding are going to be acutely aware of employer review sites as part of their employer branding strategy. Would it make sense to spend a considerable volume of cash, time and effort on formulating a fantastic employer branding campaign and ignore the unbalanced negative reviews on an employer review site? I would argue that it wouldn’t. What can be done about this then? Perhaps utilising your current army of employees to post positive reviews about how wonderful the company is would nullify any negative reviews and relegate them to page 51. Just an idea of course, but am I the first to think of that?
Behind the Smoke and Mirrors
If you’re still reading and can agree with my unrestricted cynicism, this could pose you some problems when seeking your next job. If so, you wouldn’t be able to trust the promotional videos. Or the employer review sites or the job advert. So, what could you trust?
For me, a low staff turnover is a tell all sign of a good employer. This of course is in relation to their industry. If the company, based on your homework, are steadily growing and retain their staff better than their competitors then they are likely to be a decent employer. If they haemorrhage staff like lemmings from a cliff top, whilst sporting an incredible employer branding portfolio I’d think twice.
Never the less in my opinion this is why Great Employer branding doesn’t always mean Great Employer.
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