Anonymous comments lead to top workplaces

Softchoice, Manulife among employers on Glassdoor list
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/22/2016

Anna Filipopoulos periodically checks in with to see what people are saying about her company. Senior vice-president of people and growth at Softchoice in Toronto, she knows the site is used by employees to provide candid feedback about their employers.

“We have other vehicles too, like engagement surveys, but I think Glassdoor is different,” she said.

Not that Filipopoulos has much to worry about — Softchoice, an IT consulting company, is among the 25 Best Places to Work in Canada in 2016, according to Glassdoor’s first ranking for Canada.

 “It’s candid feedback, it’s anonymous feedback, it was unsolicited, so we’re absolutely delighted that our employees took the time to provide their comments and their feedback, so I think that’s why for us it’s so fantastic,” she said. “It’s not us sitting there crafting a message, it’s our people saying whatever they’re inspired to say, so we were just thrilled.”

The awards are based on the input of employees who voluntarily provide anonymous feedback by completing a company review about their job, work environment and employer. The list includes employers with 1,000 or more employees.

When an employee submits a review on the Glassdoor site, she is asked to give her opinion on some of the best reasons to work for their employer and any downsides and encouraged to provide   advice to management. Employees are also asked to rate how satisfied they are with their employer  and their CEO, as well as with five key workplace attributes: career opportunities, compensation and benefits, culture and values, senior management and work-life balance.

In addition, employees are asked whether they would recommend their employer to a friend and what they think of the employer’s business outlook.

“Each and every review goes through a multi-tier review process and this process includes technological and human touch review,” said Scott Dobroski, associate director of corporate communications at Glassdoor in San Francisco. “We also have ways to verify people are who they claim to be, so we have ways to make sure that one person is not stuffing the ballot box, so to speak — and, in fact, if we find evidence of suspicious activity or activity that doesn’t meet our community guidelines, we will investigate and take appropriate steps, so that means an employer could be excluded or those reviews… could come down.”

This kind of “top employer” recognition is something Manulife is looking at more frequently these days, said Stephani Kingsmill, executive vice-president of human resources at Manulife in Toronto, which also made the list.

“In an era of social media… prospective employees are becoming much more knowledgeable about the companies that they’re applying to and so it’s important for us to be out there and building the employer brand through various channels.”

The fact that Manulife employees voluntarily took the time to provide comments says a lot about their engagement “as well as how they see themselves as having a role in helping to recruit other people,” said Kingsmill.

 Finding out Earl’s Kitchen + Bar was top on Glassdoor’s list took president Mo Jessa offguard.

“I would say (we did well) not because we’re perfect, it’s not because we’re doing something so great that it’s ‘Look at how great we are.’ All people are saying is ‘We love your intentions, we love the fact that you want to be transparent and you want to look at the warts that this company has and you’re willing to do something about it.’ So I think they’re thanking a company that’s willing to do that,” he said.

“At the same time, it was gratifying to know (Glassdoor doesn’t) just automatically post good or bad comments, they review each one so they can’t be loaded by… a competitor going in and posting a bunch of negative ones, and you can’t do it the other way around too.”

Important considerations

When it comes to the factors important to employees, these include a mission-driven corporate culture where employees “know what the company’s culture is, they know where the company is going and they know their role at the company,” said Dobroski.

Softchoice’s focus is on employees, said Filipopoulos.

 “We try to create a winning culture where our people can thrive and we talk a lot about bringing the whole employee to work… we strive to be open and transparent, we have a real focus on development, it’s a fun, engaging environment, we strive to have a visible leadership, it’s inclusive,” she said.

“Our mission in the organization or our purpose is to unleash the potential of our people and I think that really resonates in the organization. I’m not saying we do it perfectly day in and day out but it’s certainly something that we strive for and it manifests in how we develop our people, the career opportunities.”

That includes connecting employees on a monthly basis to share financials and key messages and showcase employees who’ve done great things. And every January, all 1,350 people at the company are brought to Toronto for a launch to reinforce the company’s culture and give people a chance to reconnect, said Filipopoulos.

Culture is an area Manulife has been particularly focused on recently, said Kingsmill.

“Our business strategy has shifted quite a bit in the last couple of years, so one side is more customer-centric and we recognized that that requires a shift in culture and a different kind of connectivity and collaboration within the organization, different ways of responding to consumer needs and innovation. And that shift in strategy requires us to encourage different kinds of behaviours in order to be successful going forward. So that’s been something that’s been fostered through management communications, through some of the development opportunities that we provide for our employees, so I’m glad to see that’s something that’s been recognized.”

Another theme for popular employers on Glassdoor is transparent senior leadership, said Dobroski, meaning “clear communication that lets employees know ‘Here’s the state of the business, here’s where were going in the short-term, here are some long-term goals and here’s how all of you play a role  in reaching these goals.’”

Earl’s is a private company that doesn’t have to reveal anything but shares everything, said Jessa in Vancouver.

“It’s so transparent, people find out weekly what the numbers are, not only financially but programs. I go around the country with my executive team and at town halls we try to share strategy with our people, all the way down to every detail. And in the town halls, they’re allowed to ask questions about what we’re doing and why, so it’s quite rigorous in communications.”

Manulife’s CEO is passionate about communicating and meeting with employees from around the world, said Kingsmill.

“Our executives overall make an effort with internal social media too. We’re finding executives are posting blogs more often and you see more dialogue where it’s not just an executive posting but also employees posting internally and getting conversations going about what’s going on in the office and around the world. So internal social media has been a great tool for connecting our teams globally, helping people see what’s going on in different parts of the country, and I think does contribute to that transparency.”

Along with good salaries and compensation packages, working with a sense of community and professional development are important to employees commenting on Glassdoor, according to Dobroski.

Having started at Earl’s washing dishes, Jessa said it’s more of a people development company than a food services company.

“This company was built to empower people to run big businesses, believing in people’s potential. Sometimes the company believes in me more than myself and it gave me chances to do things that I couldn’t have imagined. And it continues to be that for people today.”

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