It never used to be that easy to find out what employees thought about their employers. But that was before social media, internet forums and jobs and recruitment sites like Glassdoor came on the scene. These days, trying to keep information within your company's four walls is like trying to hold water in your hands: you can have a go, but sooner or later it's going to leak out.

"Companies need to embrace transparency in the workplace."

A quick click of a mouse or a swipe of a screen, and the truth — good or bad — is out there for all to see. According to a global survey of 2,300 employees by PR firm Webber Shandwick, 50 per cent of them had posted something about their employer on social media. This is one reason why employee engagement has reached a tipping point — and why companies need to think about embracing transparency in the workplace.

 

Strategy

 

“Today, information wants to be free,” says Diarmuid Russell, Vice President of International, Glassdoor. “You can't control it. And once it's in the public domain you can't put it back in the box. That means organisations need to have a strategy to embrace this new world. They need to listen to feedback and be adaptable.”

Russell gives the example of digital services and products agency AKQA, who did just that with positive results. “They were getting reviews on our site from some of their employees who had issues with their holiday entitlement,” he says. “The general theme of the comments was: 'This is a great company to work for, it gives fantastic perks and it's lots of fun — we just wish we had more holiday time available to us.'

"Transparency can be a useful tool for helping to stop a small issue from becoming a big one.”

AKQA took those comments on board and now offers their employees more holiday entitlement. What's important is listening, recognising there's a problem, owning that problem and making changes to solve it, notes Russell.

 

Impact

 

Because the fact is that, today, a company's 'retail brand' and its 'employment brand' have merged. This means that if the people who work for a particular company are known to be happy, valued and satisfied, then that can have a positive impact on its brand. If they're not being treated well and are publicly miserable, it can have a negative impact. Having a strategy to counter any negative reviews or comments is, therefore, crucial to the overall health of an organisation.

An authentic 'employment brand' reflects well on an organisation's entire brand

Yet it's not just negative reviews that an organisation should respond to. “There's tremendous power in replying to a positive review because it reinforces your serious attitude to employee engagement,” says Russell. “For example, someone in your organisation might say: 'I noticed the training programmes have improved recently.' The company can respond with: 'Thanks for that. We noticed training was an issue for us and that our employees wanted better career development – so we've hired a learning and development manager to put a training programme in place.' That sort of thing makes you look fantastic to both the outside world and your internal stakeholders.” But, he cautions, an organisation shouldn't engage in spin or PR when it comes to employee engagement. It's important to be authentic and to mean what you say.

 

Value

 

There's a commercial imperative to employee engagement, too, because many studies have found a positive link between employee satisfaction and a company's financial performance. Using data from Glassdoor, researchers from the University of Kansas found that a one-unit change in a company's rating on the Glassdoor scale increases its market value by 7.9 percent. “That's a causal link,” says Russell. “And we found that the companies on our annual Best Places to Work list outperform the overall stock market by 115%. So employee engagement is a win-win.”

What it isn't, however, is a one-size fits all strategy. “There are different ways to achieve better employee engagement,” says Russell. “Not everyone employs the same approach. Tech companies are famous for giving out wild and wacky perks, for example – and that might work well for them. But for employees in other companies in other sectors, having a steady job, knowing what's expected of you being paid a fair wage could be enough to drive engagement.”