Despite Worker Complaints, Google Is Still World’s Most Reputable Employer

Worker issues become important in determining corporate reputation

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer October 2, 2019
Despite Worker Complaints, Google Is Still World’s Most Reputable Employer

​Google, the Internet search engine that promised to not "be evil," is consistently the subject of bad news, including charges of sexual harassment, data privacy concerns, anti-trust investigations, and criticism—both internal and external—of projects with unpopular U.S. agencies and foreign governments. 

Yet it retains its rank as the world's most reputable employer for the second consecutive year, according to the Reputation Institute's 2019 Global Workplace 100 study based on 230,000 individual ratings from online public surveys collected in the first quarter of 2019.

While Google maintained its first-place ranking as an employer, global perceptions of it as a company have declined from a year ago, resulting in a drop from 3rd to 14th. In the U.S., Google plummeted 63 spots, falling out of the top 100 for the first time.

"The company's approach to issues such as military contracts, equitable treatment of contract workers and the perceived mishandling of sexual-harassment claims all contributed to Google's diminished reputation as a company," said Kylie Wright-Ford, CEO of Reputation Institute, a data insights technology company and provider of reputation measurement and management services based in Boston. "Still, it outperformed other highly regarded companies to hold on to the top spot as a place to work."

Google's reputational strength lies in the power of branding, said Jody Ordioni, founder and chief branding officer of Brandemix, a New York City-based branding and communications agency. "I think it's less about the tech sector, although that's a highly desirable field, and more about the power of consumer brand that occupies a place in our hearts and minds. Well-known and popular brands have a halo effect and, despite the actual workplace culture, they will be perceived as employers of choice."

Technology companies tend to show well on best-of lists because they have been leaders of innovative workplace practices, said Isadora Levy, senior research manager at the Reputation Institute. "Back in the early 2000s, they were the ones that introduced new workplace cultures, new benefits, new ways of treating their employees. Even when facing increased scrutiny, they still get the benefit of the doubt from the general public."

But that doesn't mean they should get complacent, Levy said. "What's driving employer brand is shifting. We're seeing increases in employer citizenship and a company's impact on society as key drivers of employer reputation."

The Importance of the Workplace in Corporate Reputation

Google, The LEGO Group and Microsoft were the only companies in the top 10 listing to earn a strong global rating as employers. The other top 10 firms (Natura, Cisco, Bosch, Honeywell, Intel, Rolls-Royce Aerospace and Havaianas) were classified as having an average reputation.

Reputation Institute found that the perception about an organization, including its workplace culture, is increasingly more important in shaping company reputation than the products it sells. "In 2019, perceptions of enterprise—who you are—drives two-thirds of corporate reputation versus what you sell, which accounts for only a third," said Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, chief reputation officer for Reputation Institute. He cited two reasons for the growing importance of the workplace dimension in reputation: a tight labor market that is almost at full employment and people becoming more discerning about what is considered an employer of choice.

Employee Activism: A New Variable

Over the past year, employees across the country have staged protests and walkouts to oppose their organizations' business practices, adding a new challenge—and opportunity—for employers concerned about maintaining positive reputations.

"Employee activism is not new, but in the past it tended to be focused more on employee benefits or rights, whereas now we're seeing workers looking at the broader picture and requesting an alignment of the employer's values with their own values," Levy said.

Ordioni said the rise in employees' use of their voice is fantastic, because the potential negative impact on the bottom line means that workplace culture must be treated more seriously and viewed as an important financial consideration for any organization to succeed.

"Companies should embrace employee activism," said Crystal Miller Lay, founder, CEO and principal strategist for Branded Strategies, a branding and recruitment marketing firm in Dallas. "In an era of lack of trust in institutions, employees are the key to how you build trust as an employer. Being able to channel employee activism is a way to humanize companies. But the trick is channeling that desire for change into something that is positive for the organization and the community."

Measuring Reputation

How can employers make sure that their idea of the company's brand aligns with what employees and potential job seekers believe? A holistic view of reputation is needed, experts said. In order to get that holistic view, Hahn-Griffiths noted, organizations need to hear from their employees and the public at large.

It's not enough to just craft and promote an employer brand from the top down, Ordioni said. "Employer brand 2.0 considers what current, past and prospective employees are feeling and sharing and comes directly from employee sentiment and feedback."

This more-comprehensive measure—what some refer to as a talent brand—is not found in any one place but can be studied from a variety of ratings and rankings, employer review sites, feedback survey tools, and internal benchmarks.

Net promoter score (NPS)—how likely someone is to refer your organization for products and services—and its employer brand version eNPS are still at the core of reputation measurement, Miller Lay said. "It's a fairly good bellwether of your reputation," she said. "But remember that there is no single source of truth, and the best way to manage reputation is through multiple methods of data collection and research. Overlay all your findings together, find out where your reputation is weak and create a strategy to fix it."



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