Every year, local news outlets publish or broadcast lists of their regions' best employers. The best-employer awards are essential PR efforts, because an employer has to complete an application in order to be considered for honors. The application form is likely to ask questions about family-friendly programs in place at the organization, the level of turnover, and fun facts about the company or institution. There's only one problem with the standard best-employer-award methodology, but it's a big one: nobody asks the employees what they think.
For contrast, consider the case of Dish Network, recently labeled the country's worst employer by employer-review website Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor (get it? People who don't work for the company can see in) lets current and past employees of any firm log in and leave reviews praising or bashing their workplaces. Dish Network won (?) the Worst Employer award by having the lowest overall satisfaction rating of any of the thousands of employers reviewed on the Glassdoor site.
It's bad enough to be called the nation's worst place to work. Dish Network CEO Joe Clayton scored a double fail with his reaction to the news. "That's ridiculous," said Clayton. Ridiculous? It might be shocking or upsetting or discouraging news. To call the poor reviews ridiculous is to call Joe's own past and present employees frauds and complainers. That isn't a great way to build trust, much less momentum for the culture-changing work ahead.
We've reached a new point in the evolution of branding. Twenty years ago, people who worked for big companies took on the company's brands, as in "I work for Kraft General Foods" or "I'm over at Paine Webber now." They basked, you could say, in the glow of their employers' public image. These days, the locus of branding power rests with the individual. We consent to bring our brands to our employers. We'll leave if the organization trashes the goodwill and credibility we've built for ourselves. (Here's an example. I have just under 6000 first-degree LinkedIn connections, meaning millions of people in my out-to-the-third-degree LinkedIn network. Yet when I conducted a search of my LinkedIn universe using "Enron" as the employer name, not a single one of my contacts popped up as a search result. What happened to all those people who worked for Enron? They've scrubbed the slate clean. They don't claim Enron because of its negative brand image. Fascinating!)
Employers can't afford to ignore websites like Glassdoor.com, nor undervalue the employee's-view side of their branding, either. Marketing VPs have to be as attuned to the talent-population view of their organizations as they're aware of the customer-population image they carry. The back door - the employee entrance, that is - is wide open now, and people are looking in.