Top employer lists still popular but interest fading (Analysis)

'Slick' applications favoured, say respondents
By Claude Balthazard
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/12/2011

Among the organizations represented by our Pulse Survey respondents, about one-third (34.8 per cent) are currently participating in a top employer competition and about one-half (49.1 per cent) have participated in a top employer competition in the past.

On the whole, the idea that top employer lists are not as important as they were a few years ago was borne out by the survey responses — 45.1 per cent thought top employer lists are not as important today as they were a few years ago, whereas only 16.7 per cent thought the lists are even more important today. The remainder (38.2 per cent) said top employer lists were just as important today as they were a few years ago.

Not surprisingly, respondents from organizations currently participating in a top employer competition are more likely to see the lists as being as much or more important as they seemed to be a few years ago (69.6 per cent versus 46.9 per cent); they are more likely to pay attention to published top employer lists (77.5 per cent versus 55.1 per cent somewhat or very much so); they are more likely to believe participation is worthwhile even if their organization doesn’t make the list (79.1 per cent vs. 47.3 per cent somewhat or very much so); they are more likely to consider these list are valid (49.3 per cent versus 21.7 per cent mostly and very valid); and they more likely to believe the concept of a “top employer” is a valid one (40.5 per cent versus 26.1 per cent).

There were several opinions about the validity of top employer lists, however — 28.3 per cent thought the lists had “little or no validity” and 31.1 per cent thought the lists were only “somewhat valid.”

The fact most top employer competitions are sponsored by consulting firms or media concerns was not missed by respondents. Many said the effective purpose of many competitions was to allow sponsoring consulting agencies to gain access to clients, so organizations that were not viewed as a source of consulting business were ignored.

Other respondents said the top employer concept had been highjacked to become a media ad grab. A number of respondents said the interest of the media had led to an overemphasis on “sexy” and “odd” perks.

Some respondents said the lists were skewed by the fact the ranking process favoured organizations with the resources to pull together slick applications. Others said their organization “just fudged all the inputs to make it look like they are a good employer.” One respondent said a previous employer, which made it to a top employer list for five years straight, had simply given answers that were untrue.

Some respondents indicated the only rankings they would trust would be those based on employee ratings. Others said their organization had pressured employees to respond to the top employer surveys in the desired manner. And some said confusion and fatigue have set in when it comes to these competitions, especially considering the vast number of lists.

Nonetheless, a number of respondents said top employer ratings, despite all their foibles, are still very important for employer branding for recruitment purposes, and top employer ratings are indeed noticed by job applicants.

Claude Balthazard is director of HR excellence and registrar at the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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