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Small business

Word of (bad) mouth

September 23, 2011
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)

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. 

twitter Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

Poll: How would you describe your workplace to friends and acquaintances?

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  1. Please select an answer.
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I love it, heaps of opportunities


Booorring, do I really have to share carpet space with these people??


Not too bad, It's just a way to pay the bills


Total cesspit


Total votes: 982.

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32 comments so far

  • I love my work and have a lot of respect for my employer. The work is often challenging, but just as often rewarding and I'm given more opportunity to try new things than I have been in other areas that I've worked in. The boss also recognises when you put in and shows thanks when you do. They pay may not be at the level you might see in major corporations but it's enough for expenses and some left over.

    I've got a seriously good job and here's the kicker, I work for a trade union.

    Johnny B Gone
    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 10:45AM
  • I love my employer and I do frequently reccommend them.

    However I do hate a previous employer (retail) and will tell everyone who will listen about how awful they are!

    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 11:01AM
  • My employer;

    - Bullies people about takign sick leave.
    - Forces it's night shift staff to rotate from graveyard hours to dayshift hours with 1 day off in between.
    - Pays absolute dirt.
    -Makes taking leave an incredibly hard process in which you never get the dates you want, even when applying 6 months in advance.

    I wouldn't recommend them to an enemy.

    Omicron Persei 8
    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 11:24AM
  • My employer is reasonably large for its location, and overall, not too bad. Pay's reasonable, conditions are good, and most employees are reasonably close to home.

    However, we have a number of bosses/managers I'd happily badvocate. Get one of those, and your life may end up a misery.

    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 11:50AM
  • I worked for the most abrasive, abusive and cowardly employer ever, who was driven by greed, greed and more greed. He had a total lack of concern for his employees that was so small it made recognising that concern difficult. Fighting among his employees was rife, sackings and transfers common because of the abusive conditions and the overload of work. The union was useless, workcover even more so, governments fawned on this man who believed bribery poured oil on troubled waters. He was feted instead of being reviled, he built an empire that I think should be named THE EVIL EMPIRE. I believe this man would have had to be the worst employer in Australian history and would go close to being the worst in the world, but you would not have thought so with all the press coverage he was given and the photo opportunities lavished on him. When this man was alive he had an assassin as a bodyguard. Why would anybody have an assassin as a bodyguard?

    Former Employee
    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 12:01PM
  • I work for govt and have only been here for a few weeks, but so far so good.

    My previous employer was truly awful. No training, no support, constantly telling me what I did wrong but not what I did right and expected me to be right across 75 different clients, in detail within 4 weeks. I bag them every time someone asks me about them. I even had a prominent recruiter tell me they pulled out a temp from that office because of the horrible culture. The way this guy talked to his wife was atrocious. I should have taken that as a sign that things were bad, but I didn't.

    The employer before that was fabulous to me until about 3 months before I left. They brought in a new CEO and she totally destroyed the happy cameraderie and more than half the staff left because of the bullying from her. Management turned a blind eye. When it happened to me I was gone. And I told the above recruiter (who knew the boss and the firm's reputation) all about what was going on. He was shocked and promised not to send anyone for a job there.

    Audra Blue
    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 12:43PM
  • I would be very careful about bad mouthing your former employer to work colleagues or future employers.

    Not only is it bad form, but if I did it, I think it would throw my work experience and abilities in doubt because I would effectively be saying: "[company] were useless = I worked for a useless company = the last [#] were a complete waste of time = my CV is useless."

    God help you if you do this in a job interview - the "best" that could come from it is that your future employer rings your reference, your reference gives another story which not only makes you look like a liar, but anyone ringing that reference on your behalf from then on will be sure to blackball your name.

    Express some righteous indignation privately. I think that is fine.

    But whatever you do, never succumb to the temptation to bag a former employer entirely because it will not make you look good as an employee but may make you appear to be a lazy, disloyal employee (even if untrue) and give your former employer a reason and further opportunity to badmouth YOU as an employee.

    If you are concerned about your employer or the workplace, go seek some legal advice - there are plenty of lawfirms out there who would be very willing to help you out.

    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 2:20PM
  • I ike my employer, I do not like my boss. There is a difference.

    Expat in OZ
    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 2:42PM
  • My current employer is fab - compared with previous jobs they really appreciate their employees and are always coming up with new ways to reward us and keep us engaged, with competitions, prizes etc.
    My last employer was terrible though, they always expected overtime with no payment, changed shifts around without asking first, pretty much expected the world from you and gave nothing but very low pay in return.

    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 2:43PM
  • My employer said to me "we work on staff satisfaction, rather then huge pay packets" Im an assistant, getting paid minimum wage doing work of 60-70k job. They don't let you take annual leave when you want it and crack it if you are sick. Not only that, they always put staff down and never say thank you or appreciate work done for them.

    Date and time
    September 23, 2011, 2:44PM

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