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Why businesses need to mind the gap between the reality and the perception of their culture

Published 06 Oct 2021
Corporate Communications

We advise high-profile international companies and organisations on a range of communications issues in complicated commercial and regulatory environments.

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Businesses are sleepwalking into a widening gap between how they present themselves to the wider world and how their employees actually feel about the company.

Exclusive research conducted by Hanover’s Strategy & Insights Unit found that culture was the topic most posted about by businesses on social media. This ranks it ahead of other key topics such as CSR, diversity and inclusion, LGBT+ issues and learning & development.

However, by combining social intelligence to analyse social media posts from 25 FTSE 100 companies and in-depth analysis of Glassdoor reviews for the same companies, we found that employee experience rarely matches what companies want to be known for when it comes to internal communications and culture.

While companies are keen to boast about culture, their employees have a more negative take. An analysis of Glassdoor reviews found that culture stood head and shoulders above other topics in being cited as a negative aspect of their employment. It was cited in 21% of all unfavourable posts.

An overlay of key topics found that the three subjects most posted about on social media were culture, CSR initiatives and training. On Glassdoor, however, the three areas that drew the most negative comments were culture, senior leadership and workload management. This suggests that in the minds of employees at least, what you see is not always what you get.

This points to a disconnect between many companies’ outward focus and a need for a better calibration of their employee focus.

The significance of the gap was highlighted most prominently in recent months by Brewdog, which faced widespread backlash following the emergence of a public letter from more than 100 employees posted on Twitter which said the business was home to a “culture of fear” and that “being treated like a human being…is sadly not always a given”.

For a company so driven by personality and a mission to build a passionate network of craft beer enthusiasts, to have the negative aspects of its internal culture brought to public light in such a manner was a powerful lesson for other businesses.

Companies that are ready to take an honest look at how their employees feel about the culture of their business should focus on the increasing number of accounts on social media that have sprung up allowing the newest generation of workers to share memes that reflect the gap.

Posts such as these help highlight the frustrations employees feel in often hilarious ways, while accounts like Crazy Management Consultants (@crazymgmtconsultants) and @whitecollarhumor •  are followed by more than 200,000 people and offer humorous takes on worker frustrations on a daily basis.

Meme accounts like the above can act as a ‘real life’ version of corporate platforms like LinkedIn or Glassdoor, and are something businesses shouldn’t ignore if they’re serious about understanding what the issues are in their own industry.

For Teodora Coste, Hanover’s Strategy and Insights Director, “Employees are the lifeblood of any business and culture is hugely vital to ensure that they perform at the highest levels and also support you in delivering your strategy. This research tells us that businesses really need to ensure they create a joined-up message to the wider world. Focusing on key topics such as CSR and DEI is absolutely crucial, and getting the balance right can be difficult. The smartest businesses are those that ensure that while they are talking about initiatives they are introducing to tackle the climate crisis and act responsibly, they are also making sure that they are delivering for their employees”.

We believe there is a real opportunity for businesses to rewire their internal and external communications to ensure they present a vision for the future of their organisation, the planet and their people, that everyone can buy into effectively.

At Hanover, we help our clients rewire their business strategies to allow them to build innovative partnerships and get the right messages to the right people at the right time.

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