It’s hard not to feel sorry for Uber this year. Really. I’ve got my sad hat on, and the resultant empathy is just oozing all over it. Ok, perhaps not so much, but I do feel sorry for many of the people who work there. If you believe any of the reports, you would frame it as a law-bending, aggressive, and misogynistic place to work. From these very public reports, from an outside point of view—it sounds just awful.
Do I know any of this for sure? No, I don’t. I never worked there and, amazingly, given the extent of my personal network, don’t know anybody who does. It could be entirely fake news, for all I know, but it’s not the point. At face value, with the numerous allegations in the press about the organisation, I simply get the impression that it’s not my kind of company—as a result, I would be hesitant to work there.
You could objectively say that their employer brand is suffering.
Wolves In Chic Clothing
Employer branding is one of those subjects that ebbs and flows based on the job markets in each sector. You would have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that working habits have changed, especially with the up-and-coming trends:
- Long-term careers are out, portfolios are in.
- Work-life balance is a priority.
- The quality and variety of work is as important as simply being “steady.”
- Salaries are a short-term motivation and don’t necessarily aid retention.
- The highly skilled are highly sought and have many, many options.
- It’s a “seller’s” market.
These uppity, yet apparently talented millennials just want everything and, for the most part, are getting it. As a result, right now, if you want the best—you must be the best. They must choose you. As such, employer branding has been moving higher up the agenda.
The Rise Of The Zebras
Let’s think about perception in the tech industry, just for a sec. I heard a term recently that’s a direct foil to the “Move Fast and Break Things” unicorns—we now have the “Move Carefully and Don’t Leave a Mess” zebra. These companies, while still about making money, are conscious of the social and environmental implications of their business. A side effect is they are more sustainable across several axes and build a better employee culture.
My cynical hat tells me that it’s got a smattering of “Don’t Be Evil" about it, but, as a general principle, it’s got to be a healthier attitude than the Ayn Rand posse, and it certainly will help build a strong employer brand.
Now those companies are few and far between, and the majority of businesses have more affinity to hippopotami than anything remotely equestrian. However, there is much to be learnt from them and, perhaps, a few painted stripes rather than full gene resequencing might do the trick.
When it comes to employer brand, there are many factors and many departments within the organisation that have a direct influence on the outcome. Upper management, HR, the product itself, corporate communications, legal … all play a big part. Marketing is just one of them, but, while it may not be your fault that you have an ailing employer brand, it is your problem. Especially next time you want to hire somebody!
Key indicators that you may, indeed, have a problem include, but are not limited to:
- Retention rates decreasing.
- Wage inflation—having to leverage your spending power.
- Negative press—about the business in general but especially about employee disputes.
- Employee referral rates—how often do your staff recommend new staff?
- Social media angst—leaks, rants, and unchallenged trolls.
- Vertical community angst, i.e. moaning developer networks etc.
- Lack of visibility on employment policies.
- Lack of visibility, or any, CSR activities.
- Dodgy management—i.e. getting caught.
- Dodgy recruitment practices—i.e. price fixing and poaching.
- Dodgy product or sector—hmm, better not say, but you can guess.
- Unsavoury corporate culture and values.
- Lack of diversity.
- Artificial glass ceilings—look at your board of directors.
Sounds like pretty much any large corporation—the difference being you used to be able to get away with it. Many of these can be addressed by others in the business, but where the inside meets the outside, being customer-centric means being employee-centric as well.
From Cages To The Wide-Open Plains
Modern employer branding is a mishmash of corporate behavioural change, transparency hence social media participation, clear expression of purpose and values, and the empirical evidence to back it up.
Each business will need a tailored strategy that reflects the sector, skill-sets required, growth ambitions, competitive landscape, etc. The kinds of tactics to consider include:
- Showcasing and individual attribution.
- Encourage participation in relevant work-related communities.
- Have a kick-ass employee handbook, make it public, and stick to it.
- Break down artificial silos.
- Integrate employer branding, and engagement, into any change management or digital transformation programme.
- As a senior leader, engage in some personal branding activity—be seen on the outside world, participate, and share.
- You look at customer journey planning? Why not employee journey planning? Be where they are and address to impress!
- Let the staff do the talking. You can’t force it, you need to inspire and enable it—it’s rarely in their job spec to go out of their way to large up the company.
Beauty In Everything
Now here’s the rub. I checked out Uber on Glassdoor, a site that employees use to give anonymous reviews which generate a star rating on what it’s really like at the company.
Preparing myself for the beauty of Uber being rated one star by its own, what did I find? … 4.1/5 stars. Really? Maybe it isn’t so bad? Maybe I should consider it? Well, no, not for me, but it’s a great example of how what we see from the outside colours our perception.
If any of this resonates, then I suspect it’s time to have an out-of-body experience, take a look at how others see you, and get your paintbrushes out.