Best employers or workplaces

More questions than answers

Every year, a clutch of consulting firms routinely release their “much awaited” list of best employers or workplaces in India. These lists are based on the firm’s hypothesis or definition of “best employer” and a research methodology they adopt to validate that hypothesis or definition.

As I see these lists I find the usual suspects. Some names on the list surprise me. I also wonder why some are missing. To me these lists raise many questions about employee value propositions, engagement and the larger issue of Branding.

So, here are the questions I ask myself as I see these lists and some tentative and incomplete answers I give myself.

1. Is there one truth to who the “best” employer is?

Like many things in life, there is more than one truth, each defined from a certain logic bubble. So also is the question of who can be called best employer. Each firm has its own definition and its own methodology. That means the list can be quite diverse. Of course, shorn of all jargon, some common truths emerge.   Employees value money, career opportunities, good hygiene in terms of benefits and facilities, a safe workplace, a friendly atmosphere that promotes affiliation and so on. Long Live Abraham Maslow!

2. If an organisation does not appear on any of the lists, does that mean they are not a good employer?

Not really. It may simply mean that they did not take the trouble to apply. Maybe they were not aware or did not have the time or just did not believe in all this. Maybe they applied but did not make it to the list. There are thousands and thousands of employers who are fair, pay reasonably, provide good work, ensure safe and fair working conditions and help their employees perform and grow but are not on any list. I wonder if it requires a certain extraversion to get onto these lists.

3. If an organisation is on the list, is it truly among the best employers?

I am now entering muddy waters but I will muddle my way through and answer nevertheless.

There are two possibilities I see here. Most organisations that figure in the list are good employers. They would meet all the criteria that most of us would consider important. Some in fact, do a very good job on many counts. This is one possibility.

There is another possibility. If the consulting firm that is running the survey did not have good participation, they might be forced to create a list from among those who applied.  That is not a good situation but quite a possibility – remember, organisations also suffer from “best employer application fatigue”.

Also, if you read the CV of some of the HR Heads, one item on their CV that they are proud of is their effort to get their organisation onto a list. Does that mean that with some effort, you can get onto some list?

4. What is the future of these branding efforts in a world driven by social media

Perhaps a decade ago, when the media controlled information about organisations and employees relied almost entirely on what they read in the media to form impressions about organisations, these lists were very influential.

With all the information available about organisations and its people and its practices on the social media on a real time basis, employees are able to form impressions and make decisions effortlessly. It is my belief that a list published once a year has little value today.

In fact, if these lists need to survive in the next five years, they may need to reinvent themselves and find ways in which they can offer real-time insights into organisations. One never knows. Someone might come up with an app (and some VC might fund it) to offer employees real-time insights into their target organisations using crowd sourcing and through that make these lists almost redundant.

5. Why am I saying all this and being such a spoil sport?

I am saying all this because I find it hard to come to terms with the current approach to employer branding. I belong to a school of thought that if you did all the right things because you believed in it, your brand will be recognised.  It looks contrived that an organisation can work on its employer brand and act like someone that it really is not – that would be phoney.

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