Bad PR ... many staff don't speak positively about their employers.

Bad PR ... many people don't speak positively about their employers.

If there was ever a prime example of a First World problem, it’d be found in the Australian workplace. We’ve got a low unemployment rate, decent wages, and world-class working conditions, and yet new research reveals employees still aren’t satisfied. The majority wouldn’t recommend their employer to anyone else.

Would you recommend your employer? Leave a comment (without naming names)

Customers are more likely to be advocates than employees. 

A survey of 7000 Australians by Insync Surveys and gift voucher business Red Balloon released this week found only a third of employees were prepared to vouch for their employer, thereby classifying the rest as ‘badvocates’.

“In almost all cases, customers are more likely to be advocates than employees, and this is a major challenge and missed opportunity,” said James Garriock, chief executive of Insync Surveys. 

He added that badvocates are seeking three things:

  • Greater levels of communication
  • More rewards and recognition
  • Better leadership from the boss 

The survey showed that badvocates most commonly work in hospitality, state government, and with FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods). But they’re least likely to be working in construction and communication, which were the two industries with the highest rate of ‘promoters’. Promoters are employees that talk proudly and enthusiastically about their place of work – the antithesis of the badvocate.

The number of badvocates is increasing. In a survey conducted by Corporate Executive Board, a workplace advisory firm, the rate of employees who wouldn’t recommend their employer rose from 42 per cent in 2008 to a record 75 per cent this year.

It’s an acute problem for many executives and entrepreneurs. Two years ago, in global research conducted jointly by public relations firm Weber Shandwick and The Economist Intelligence Unit, senior managers admitted that employee criticism was the greatest online risk to their company’s reputation. Forty-one per cent said it was a big issue, and it was tied in first place with ‘leaked confidential information’.

It’s so much easier now for employees to badmouth their employer. Facebook and Twitter are the obvious examples. In the same survey by The Economist, one third of respondents said they knew of a former colleague who’d written disparaging remarks about the company on the internet. Even on this blog there have been countless occasions where harsh comments have been edited to remove the name of a commenter’s employer.

Jye Smith, a digital strategist at Weber Shandwick, told me: “Employee badvocacy has always existed. From the innocent water-cooler gossip to the strategic mind games of those whose prejudice and malice create a political minefield in the office.”

This is amplified by the prevalence of social media “a hundred times over".

"A derogatory throwaway Facebook comment about workplace boredom can have serious implications on an organisation's reputation. And that means you won't be attracting the right talent or retaining those you want to keep,” he says.

According to Smith, providing employees with autonomy is one way of reducing that problem.

“Giving people responsibility for specific projects and initiatives provokes greater personal equity in the business. And with that comes a willingness for those people to defend the organisation if criticised in the workplace.”

Another way to prevent employees saying negative stuff about the company externally is to get them to say it all internally. By creating safe places and opportunities for employees to vent, they might be less inclined to do it publicly. They’re more vengeful when they feel unheard.

The research that began this article also found that 45 per cent of employees plan on resigning within the next 12 months. That may or may not come true, but even if it’s only half accurate, the consequences will be significant. Because if badvocacy is bad when employees are still employed, it gets even worse when they leave. 

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