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Please don’t brand the employees

New York real estate firm offers workers who get tattoo of company logo more money

By Todd Humber

For the last couple of years, employer branding has been a hot HR topic. Employers have been encouraged to borrow a page from marketing’s handbook and build a recruitment brand that resonates with jobseekers.

Doing so will make it easier to recruit — done right, you can watch top talent beat a path to your door and your existing stars won’t want to leave. That is staffing bliss.

But in all the talk about branding, there wasn’t much discussion of employee branding. And certainly no one suggested that physically branding staff might be a good tactic. And yet — and you can probably see where this is going — into the spotlight steps New York’s Rapid Realty.

It did the workplace equivalent of sticking a branding iron in the fire and scorching the cow’s skin — playing the role of the branding iron is the tattoo’s needle and playing the role of cow is the employee.

The real estate firm is offering an extra 15 per cent commission to employees who have the company’s logo tattooed on them, according to the Associated Press. It will even foot the bill for the skin art.

Anthony Lolli, Rapid Realty’s CEO, said the idea was spawned after one of the employees got inked with the logo. Workers, he says, are “passionate about the brand.” And the numbers seem to back that up — at least 40 employees have gotten the tattoo.

“It’s a good opportunity to show commitment to a company that makes going to work fun every day,” Robert Trezza, one of the employees, told WCBS television.

But the ink isn’t dry on that line of thinking. Employees may indeed be passionate about the brand, but they’re absolutely fanatical about their paycheques. Take the 15 per cent off the table, and there’s no doubt the uptake would be less — if not entirely non-existent.

Plus, you’ve got an element of groupthink and conformity going on here. Who wants to say to the CEO, “Hey. I like working here, really. I just don’t love it as much as these 40 other staffers.”

Workers who don’t line up at the tattoo parlour no doubt will feel ostracized. The 15 per cent commission boost may be a bonus for those who partake, but it’s also, effectively, a financial penalty for workers who refuse. It’s not much different than telling someone, “You’re not getting a raise unless you get a company tattoo.”

Plus, what happens if you leave the firm or, worse, get fired? Is Lolli also willing to foot the bill for its removal?

There’s also just a really creepy element about it. It feels dehumanizing and it certainly doesn’t do much for the recruitment brand. It may get you some free press but, contrary to popular PR belief, not all press is good press.

By all means, organizations should be working hard to build a strong brand — but, please, don’t brand the employees.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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