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Santa’s Naughty and Nice Employer Brand List of 2015

Editorial commentary by Maren Hogan

He’s making a list and checking it twice… that’s the employer brand list, of course, and hopefully, you’re not working for a company on the wrong side of it. This year we saw some wins from companies making the lives of their employees easier and we also saw some serious losses from employers just being flat out mean.

Employer brand is more important than ever. Candidates are looking to social media as the preferred channel when trying to identify a company’s employer brand which can be bad for some and great for others. Let’s start off with the employers that made the naughty list, shall we?


Check out what companies made the naughty and nice #EmployerBrand list this year... Click To Tweet


Naughty List


This Fall the New York Times released an article filled with past and present employees of Amazon talking about how intense and grueling it is to actually work for the tech giant. Stories included daily crying scenes, ranking and yanking employees regularly, and no existence of a work/life balance. Sounds like a fun place to work, right? …We didn’t think so.

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, did release a memo stating that the claims made within the article were not familiar to him and urged employees to report these behaviors. We don’t work for Amazon so we’ll let you decide what’s real or not. We can tell you, though, that a work/life balance is so important to Millennials that they will relocate if it means finding a job that offers it. 74% of Millennials say they want to be able to work flexibly, but still be on track for promotions and feel that their boss and managers support them.

How to avoid the naughty list: Offer work/life balance in the form of work-flex days, job sharing options and telecommuting options. Can’t do it? Then insist your people leave at a reasonable time and make room for family (and life) obligations like doctor appointments and junior’s recital.


74% of Millennials say they want to be able to work flexibly, but still be on track for promotions. Click To Tweet



Last month a Cheddar’s restaurant in Mobile, Alabama notified its workers they would be closing up shop for good via email the morning they locked their doors. Some employees even found out by showing up for work to find a sign on the doors stating, “Cheddar’s doors are closing, but we appreciate your support through the years.”

That’s not only terrible employer brand but also a terrible way to treat people in general. Another local restaurant in Mobile, Foosackly’s noticed and did something about it. They posted this on their Facebook page.

If it’s not Ok for an employee to quit without 2 weeks notice why is it Ok for the company to do so? Foosackly’s knows that finding a good job isn’t easy and it makes you work up an appetite. So if you’re a Cheddars employee that was left jobless you are welcome to stop by any of our locations today or tomorrow for a Box and a Drink…on us of course. Just flash us a pay stub tell us what sauce you’re feeling and we’ll take it from there. And feel free to apply if you like what you see. We have really great crews across ALL of our locations and we can always make room for more good people.”

How to avoid the naughty list: If you have to let people go, a note on the door is not the way to do it. Face up to the situation the company is in and find (even volunteer) outsourcing programs for people. At the very least, send in a team of executives and HR pros to deliver the news in person.



In September of this year, the Volkswagen scandal broke and people went crazy. If you don’t know what happened we suggest reading this rundown from The New York Times. But basically, they’re a bunch of liars and certain vehicle models definitely weren’t as safe for the environment as they had claimed to be. Why is this important to employer brand? Nobody wants to work for a liar. 80% of Millennials want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society and over half would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation. Volkswagen’s irresponsible behavior will definitely impact their hiring.

How to avoid the naughty list: When implementing any CSR initiative (for branding or employer branding) do it for the right reasons. Lying will always catch up with you in the end and will damage your brand, in some cases, irreparably. People want to work at a company they can believe in, not one that fabricates its environmental (or any other) track record.


80% of Millennials want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts society. Click To Tweet


Nice List


If Netflix wasn’t already on the nice list a couple years ago for offering unlimited vacation time, they definitely made it this year for offering unlimited paid parental leave of up to one year. Although this is applicable to most but not all employees, it is definitely a step in the right direction as it’s for maternity and paternity leave. 44% of Millennials in the survey say work-life balance has gotten harder to achieve in the last five years due to more responsibilities at home. Netflix knows how much this affects their employer brand and if they keep good talent or not. They stated in their blog, “Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home.”

How to make the nice list: While the jury is still out on the positive effects of unlimited vacation policies, one thing is sure. The United States of America is sorely lacking in paternity and maternity leave time, not just for white-collar workers but for those, not lucky enough to work a desk job at progressive companies like Netflix and Microsoft. If you are in a competitive market, offer as much family leave as you can feasibly afford. If you are in a normal field…. offer as much family leave as you can feasibly afford.



We’re pretty sure Starbucks always makes the nice list. In 2014, Starbucks announced their College Achievement Plan but it was only available to juniors and seniors. In April of this year, they expanded their program to all eligible part-time and full-time partners to give them the opportunity to apply for and complete their bachelor’s degree through ASU’s top-ranked online degree program. Nearly 2,000 Starbucks partners (employees) have already enrolled in the program. Offering tuition assistance can lower your turnover rate and help you save on taxes as well. According to the IRS, you can offer up to $5,250 per year, per employee and deduct it as a business expense.

How to make the nice list: For far too long, companies have been fretting about training their people for the competition, using this excuse to keep employees undereducated and NOT investing in learning management, continuing education and more. But this move by Starbucks shows that an educated workforce is better for us all. After all, how likely is it that a barista will  leave Starbucks once she’s earned her MBA? Support employee learning any way you can, from online courses to conference stipends, from lunch and learns to job exchange programs.


An educated workforce is better for us all, support employee learning any way you can! Click To Tweet


Gravity Payments:

In July of this year, the CEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price, decided to raise the minimum wage of all the employees of the company to $70,000 by cutting back on his own wage. There was quite a bit of backlash, even some from his own employees. Price said about the pay raise, “Most people live paycheck to paycheck. So how come I need 10 years of living expenses set aside and you don’t? That doesn’t make any sense. Having to depend on modest pay is not a bad thing. It will help me stay focused.” 10% of employees think they’re not being paid what they’re worth so much that they’ll quit their job. Price saw the worth in his employees and was willing to cut his pay in order to give them more. Recently there was speculation that the pay raise was in response to an impending lawsuit. The press went back and forth on whether this was a good or bad move for the company but ultimately, Inc magazine’s recap of the move was decidedly in the company’s favor.

How to make the nice list: Market value isn’t the only arbiter of salary. Consider the whole employee when making compensation decisions. Price famously realized he was paying employees less than they could live on, despite following “competitive intelligence”. While we can’t all cut our salaries, we CAN create compensation models that cut unnecessary spending and create room for bonuses, additional perks and of course, compensation bumps. Also, note, the raises didn’t take place overnight, giving the company a sort of “product roadmap” to follow as they implemented these new budget line items into their financial picture.


From compensation to family leave, education to embittered employees, there is so much that can (and does) affect your employer brand. What are you doing to become an employer of choice this year? Let us know in the comments.