Your Employer Brand Tastes Like Squash

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In August 2015, when Mashable, The Wall Street Journal, and others published articles about work-life balance or the lack thereof at Amazon, there was an audible gasp in the universe. For many readers, that level of transparency was both jarring and unsettling to read; especially about a cultural aspect of the very organization whose logo resembles a smile on every box. 

At the time, I had been tracking Amazon's employee-generated content on Glassdoor for three years and yes, in 2015, five thousand reviewers agreed that work/life balance was the lowest among the 5-star rating system.

The response from employees was what you might expect; some jumping on the angst wagon, others racing to their keyboards in defense of the fast-paced, high-demand workload. For someone who was preaching the virtue of transparency in employer branding, I personally found that level of honesty to be refreshing and was anxious to see how Jeff Bezos would respond. Jeff didn’t disappoint. He was unapologetically candid and equally transparent in his reply. He didn’t make excuses or wide-sweeping promises to change the culture. Instead, he thanked his employees for their commitment and publicly recognized that Amazon is an organization that demands a lot of its people and, that that level of demand is not for everyone. But for those who are willing to give (and give, and give), welcome home. Which brings me to dinner. 

What Do Steak Dinners and Employer Brand Have in Common?

My father has a saying that has ruined virtually every steak dinner for me since I heard it. It goes like this, “If you eat too much, even the best steak dinner eventually tastes like squash.”  

For my U.S. friends who recently celebrated Thanksgiving, this may hit particularly close to home. He was referring of course to the law of diminishing returns and, if you think about it, he’s right. That first bite of turkey, or ham or pumpkin pie, or whatever you most enjoy, delivers a level of satisfaction that no bite after it can. As you continue to eat, eventually each delectable item on your plate begins to lose it distinctive quality and ultimately, it all tastes like squash.  

The law of diminishing returns also applies to employer branding. When social recruiting sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn offered company pages, organizations began paying handsomely to tell their story in hopes of differentiating themselves to would-be candidates. Lengthy mission statements were replaced with snippets about culture, values, and benefits. Photos of company picnics, award ceremonies, even work spaces began cropping up everywhere. It is no longer enough to tell about where you work, you now have to show it.  

“Here’s a picture of the cafeteria, the arcade, the nap pods, the kayaks, the ball pit, the on-site cleaners, the dog-grooming station for our pet-friendly work environment etc. etc.“ 

And, as video has become easier to produce, stream and consume, companies are adding short clips to share what they are all about.  (The Dropbox puppets is still one of my favorites).

But here’s the problem, without true authenticity, they all start to look and sound the same.  Or in other words, to the candidate, taste like employer brand squash. 


First: Understand your employer brand.

No company has 5 stars across all employer brand categories on Glassdoor. It simply doesn’t exist. But every company does have an employer brand whether they understand and acknowledge it or not. 

Step one is to understand what your employer brand and company culture is. In a 2016 Deloitte survey of CEO's, only 28% of respondents believed they understood their culture well. If you are unclear about either your culture or your employer brand, how can you ask your candidates to apply and stay with confidence?

If you’re not sure, ask. Ask your employees what they like / dislike about working there. What attracted them to you and what keeps them engaged? What inspires them (or not) about working for you? Ask your candidates about the recruiting and onboarding process. And, please, have the courage to ask why your good employees are leaving.

Jeff Bezos' response to the critics worked because it was authentic and spinning Amazon's work-life balance story any other way would come across as disingenuous.  

Second:  Share your employer brand with authenticity.  

While Netflix, with its 124-slide culture deck, is touted for its employer brand authenticity, one of the most successful campaigns of the past half-century came from a car rental company. 

Constantly in the shadow of the market leader Hertz, Avis was losing money and in desperate need of a turnaround. In 1962, Paula Green, an advertising executive with the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, crafted the slogan “We Try Harder” and it stuck! It was simple, catchy, and most important, authentic.  

Avis went from losing over $3M a year to earning its first profits in over a decade. 

In 2012, after 50 years, Avis finally retired the iconic campaign but not before attracting tens of thousands of customers and job candidates. Candidates who were engaged with a purpose greater than perks or a paycheck of helping the underdog succeed by going the extra mile. Which brings me to my final point.  

Third: Ensure that your employer brand is fiercely tied to purpose and values. 

As Simon Sinek states in his book, Start with Why, there are only two ways to influence human behavior; you can either manipulate it or you can inspire it.  

Manipulation is cheap and easy. And, although it produces results, they are seldom long-lasting. Just as none of us likes to feel manipulated as consumers, neither do your candidates want to feel manipulated in the recruiting process.  

If your employer brand is congruent with and tied to a clear purpose and values, it will not only inspire your customers to buy from you, it will also inspire and attract the right candidates to work for you. 

And, in the end, isn’t that what we want, engaged employees who are aligned with our mission and want to work with us? 

Do Good. Be Kind. 


 Christopher Kurtz

 Christopher Kurtz

Christopher Kurtz is the Founder and Principal Consultant at PeerThru, an independent consultancy committed to helping clients transform their workforce through Employer Brand Management, Team Development, and Communication.

Chris has over 20 years experience leading large and small teams both domestically and abroad. Prior to forming PeerThru, he led's first Enterprise Team helping such companies as L'Oreal, Nike and Amazon develop their presence on Glassdoor and their employer brand.

When he's not building cohesive teams or helping companies tap into their authentic culture, he can be found exploring beautiful California with his wife and four sons.