3 Ways Ex-Employees Are Sabotaging Your Business

By J.T. O’Donnell

Just because they don’t work for you anymore doesn’t mean they can’t impact your future.

A CEO of a small business called me furious. His technology consulting company was finding it harder and harder to get top talent to join his company. Just that morning, a candidate he’d scheduled to meet with one-on-one backed out 30 minutes prior by email saying, “I’ve thought about it and feel this isn’t the right opportunity for me.” This was the third time this happened in the past several months. It’s costing him. Forget growing the company–he’s having trouble delivering to his current clients. His business is suffering because he can’t get good people to work for his company.

Now more than ever, your reputation as an employer matters.

With a quick employment branding assessment (a review of eight key online indicators), I found the CEO’s problem. Two plus years ago, he had restructured his business. During that time, there were some bumpy times, which included letting some employees go. The result? Several ex-employees took to social media and blasted the CEO and the rest of management. When I pointed this out to him, he said, “I was advised to just ignore it, that people don’t really look at those things.” He went on to say he would like to think smart talent would know to look beyond the hate and make the decision for themselves if they want to work at the company. He’s wrong on both accounts. Here’s why.

Employees are consumers.

Eighty-one percent of consumers research a product or service online to narrow down their options before they purchase. A survey of 1,000,000-plus job seekers by Careerealism shows they’re just like consumers. They research employers online to ensure they’re good to work for. If you don’t have a strong online employment brand, candidates will pass on working for you.

Third-party reviews matter.

Even worse, if your company has ex-employees, especially disgruntled ones, they have the ability to negatively impact your ability to hire top talent. Studies show job seekers are two-thirds more likely to make a decision about whether to work for a company based on the feedback they get from former employees. While they can handle tossing out the random negative review, if there’s more than a couple people complaining about your company, they’ll look elsewhere and be grateful they dodged an employment bullet.

Three ways ex-employees can damage your employment brand.

Living in the “internet review era,” ex-employees now have several places where they can make their opinion heard at scale. Here’s how they can retaliate.

1. Negative Glassdoor reviews. This site allows ex-employees the opportunity to anonymously share their experiences. The company is given a 1-5 star rating. Even CEOs are rated for their performance. This site has become one of the most popular for job seekers to determine if they should even take a call from your recruiter.  

2. Back-door references on LinkedIn. With more than 400 million members, LinkedIn is the number one professional networking tool in the world. With just a few clicks, a job seeker can connect with former employees of a given company and seek their off-the-record thoughts on their former employer.

3. Blasting comments on Facebook and Twitter. Angry ex-employees often take to these two social media platforms to vent to friends and family. Because bad news travels fast and colorful commentary is the most memorable, employees can spread the word quickly through these networks about their negative experience with your company. Plus, they use hashtags (i.e., try searching #bademployer) to make it possible for people to find their comments and share them with others.

It takes a candidate who is considering your job opening only a couple minutes to find this information online. Like it or not, first impressions about your employment brand matter.

Money doesn’t fix it.

In the past, companies with image problems affecting their ability to hire could solve it with money. They’d pay higher-than-normal salaries as a way to lure talent in. Sorry, it doesn’t work any more. A study by LinkedIn of over 10,000 job changers shows the main driver for job seekers today is a career opportunity that make them feel satisfied. They want their work to matter, and that includes working for a company they’re proud of. Money won’t work. In fact, more than half of them took jobs that paid the same or even less, just to get away from a bad employer.

What’s the solution?

In my 15-plus years experience in HR and recruiting, I’ve found that the solution lies in a simple mantra: “Brand or be branded.” Every company has an employment brand. Today, companies must take charge of that brand and do everything they can to reveal it to the world. The more transparent you are about what it’s like to work for your company, the better.

That’s because top talent doesn’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, they want to see you’re confident enough to share everything about what it’s like to work at your company, warts and all. When you have the confidence and commitment to openly give potential employees what they need, you earn their trust and respect.

I’ve worked with dozens of companies with bad employment reputations and each one made the same mistake: thinking if they ignored the negative press, it would go away. Wrong.

It’s time to fight back by offering the facts. Smart recruiting strategies to share your employment brand via all the major channels can help your company take ownership of its reputation and attract the talent it wants and deserves.


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