Is the balance of job power shifting toward employees?

Employee's big bark

A new breed of job websites lets employees tell it like it is.

Other potential hires are listening, and that’s forcing talent-hungry employers to treat their own staff more like customers.

Applying to work for a new employer used to be a step into the unknown. But not anymore. In job markets across the world, the balance of power is tipping. Now an organisation’s employees can publish their insider opinions of their workplace on websites such as Glassdoor and Vault. Those views can be read by thousands of prospective new hires. They can rank a company’s CEO, share interview insights and salary rates and influence people’s decisions about prospective workplaces.

For employers, that creates a sudden new pressure to perform. They’ve only just accustomed themselves to the idea that their customers will go online to talk about the movie they saw, the phone they bought, the meal they ate. Now they have to deal with the same thing from workers.

Judging the employer

Job site Glassdoor launched in 2008. Its timing was right. “When there is more demand than supply, it gives employees the right to be more picky,” says Dylan Flavell, director with HR consultancy Curve Group.

“In around 2009, employees were saying ‘Hang on. Things are pretty dicey in the market. We’re just going to sit tight and do what’s needed’. Now that growth is happening in organisations, you can have more choice.”

"When there is more demand than supply, it give employees the right to be more picky." Dylan Flavell, Curve Group

Glassdoor aimed to bring greater transparency to the job market. “The negotiation and discovery phase for the right job in the right company used to be very one-sided,” says Glassdoor’s Scott Dobroski.

“People spend at least 40 hours a week on average at their place of work. It seemed absurd that there was such little information about the things that people really want to know about a company.”

Glassdoor is essentially a two-sided marketplace. Recruiters can post job ads and job seekers can volunteer data about their current position in exchange for access to Glassdoor’s database of employers. The California-based firm recently secured US$70 million from investors. Its website now has 7.5 million pieces of content – company reviews, interview reviews, salary reports – on around 340,000 companies in 190 countries.

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It’s easy to view such sites as places for disgruntled employees to air their gripes. But employers are taking notice.

“Employers are realising that they have a larger role to play in employee satisfaction than simply making sure the pay cheques arrive on time,” says Philip Stott, consulting industry editor with New York-based job site Vault.

“That’s led to a change in how companies present themselves to prospective hires, but it’s also led to some legitimate changes within the businesses themselves. Now it’s impossible to imagine an employer mistreating an employee without word of it getting out through a site like Vault and spreading via social media.”

The quest for balance

So what do employees want? The Hiring Report: The State of Hiring in Australia 2015 by recruiting specialist Hudson puts work-life balance and flexible arrangements at the top of the list. It also found that 67 per cent of job seekers are looking for a higher salary and 64 per cent want career progression and training opportunities. The job review sites bear that out.

Vault’s Stott says more of its reviewers these days want a good cultural fit with their employer.

“A large part of that trend is being driven by the Millennial generation [born from the mid 1980s to 1990s] – a group of prospective employees who expect to be able to make an impact in their careers and who are prepared to move on until they find the right place for them.”

"It seemed absurd that there was such little information about the things that people really want to know about a company." Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor

Scott Dobroski, GlassdoorBut there’s more than just a change in preferences at work. Hirers are also seeing prospective employees who are more demanding – indeed, more like customers.

These Millennials, also known as Generation Y, were raised to know their rights, to expect the best and to feel confident about the future. “Sometimes this can be perceived as presumption, arrogance, entitlement and naivety – criticisms that are not entirely unjustified,” says Michael McQueen, a social researcher specialising in Gen Y.

One HR manager recently told McQueen of a growing trend among Gen Y candidates to ask variations on the question “Why should I work for you?” during job interviews.

“As a Gen Xer who had entered the workforce during a recession when unemployment was at 9 per cent, she found this attitude staggering and even offensive,” notes McQueen. “However it isn’t just about perks and pay packet. Many Gen Ys see a company’s corporate social responsibility as a critical ingredient in the employment relationship. They don’t want to be associated with a brand that doesn’t match their own values.”

On top of this, McQueen says Gen Ys are also looking for inspiring leadership, a culture that seeks and values their input, and the chance to learn and grow. “It can appear a tall order,” he says, “but the benefits are there, too. Gen Ys are adaptable, innovative, creative, tech savvy and natural networkers.”

Embracing workplace transparency

While younger employees were the first to adopt websites such as Glassdoor, the audience has widened.

“We’ve seen all age groups embrace workplace transparency and freedom of information,” says Dobroski.

Darren Fewster, from Telstra’s HR Shared Services, believes expectations vary in a multigenerational workplace like Telstra’s.

“However, I don’t think that older employers aren’t engaged in the workforce transformation,” he says. “We’re seeing an across-the-board shift in the way people approach work and it’s going to be really interesting over the next couple of years.”

On Glassdoor, 66 per cent of Telstra reviewers say they would recommend the company to a friend. Its soon to be former CEO, David Thodey, has a stellar Glassdoor popularity rating of 86 per cent, placing him among Australia’s highest-rated CEOs. Thodey has probably helped his cause by using the Yammer social network, and messaging employees questions such as: “What makes a great leader at Telstra? Tell me what you think.”

“You can’t fake authenticity in the way you go about dealing with openness in the workplace,” says Fewster. “It starts from the leaders of the company in the way transparency is promoted.”

"The idea of employees being promoters for your company is really critical." Darren Fewster, Telstra

Suzette Corr, ANZAt ANZ, transparency is encouraged through a focus on two-way conversations called “straight talk”. “Even when big broadcast communications go out to the company, our heads of various divisions and our CEO Mike Smith will ask for people to respond with feedback,” says Suzette Corr, who heads human resources for ANZ’s Australia division.

“It’s important that our people feel that they can speak up. It’s important from a customer perspective and it’s important from a risk perspective.”

Corr predicts the new breed of job sites will become very useful for companies wanting to attract the best candidates. “I don’t think they’re something to be scared about – the sooner we embrace the opportunities that digital transformations give us, the better off we’ll be in accessing the right talent pipelines and segments that we want to attract.”

"I think it's important that we know what talent thinks because that helps us to sharpen our saw."

"It seemed absurd that there was such little information about the things that people really want to know about a company." Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor

Employers meeting the challenge

Telstra is one company that is taking the workplace review challenge seriously. When a dissatisfied former Telstra employee posted a negative review and claims of bullying on Glassdoor in January, the telco posted a response, urging the reviewer to contact Telstra’s HR hotline to start an investigation.

“We try to ensure that we’re really open with our communication,” says Darren Fewster, executive director of HR Shared Services at Telstra.

“We have a no-tolerance [to bullying] policy and want to hear about any experiences so [we] can look into it. A number of people are active users of things like Twitter and Facebook and sometimes you will see commentary about experiences, whether it be customers or employees. We have a culture of ensuring that we address any concerns to the extent that we possibly can. The idea of employees being promoters for your company is really critical.”

The ANZ bank sees online employee reviews as an inevitable part of doing business.

“We need to recognise in this environment of social and digital disruption that information flows are no longer controllable,” says Suzette Corr, group general manager of enterprise talent and culture at ANZ. “We can’t take charge of everything and control it all. There’s a shift in that balance of power between [exchange of] information. I think you need to embrace that as an organisation and work with internal and external people to move forward.”

"I think it's important that we know what talent thinks because that helps us to sharpen our saw." Suzette Corr, ANZ

Reviews for ANZ on Glassdoor range from the enthusiastic – “A very supportive work environment, work/life balance, transparency in growth and salary” – to the tough – “No scope for career growth or learning”. Some 70 per cent of reviewers would recommend ANZ as an employer to a friend, which puts ANZ in the middle of the banking field. ANZ’s chief executive Mike Smith polls better, with an 80 per cent approval rating.

“It’s actually quite exciting because it gives us very good information on what our workplace is thinking and valuing,” adds Corr, who is also general manager of human resources for ANZ’s Australia division.

“I think it’s important that we know what talent thinks and feels and is sharing about us because that helps us to sharpen our saw. I think leaders are generally interested now in what their people think.”

This article is from the April 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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