Not too long ago, I found myself in the restroom at one of the best companies to work for in America. When I went to wipe myself, the toilet paper disintegrated on my skin.

It’s one of the greatest places to work in America, and they give their employees one-ply toilet paper. I still can’t get my mind around that. But what am I going to do? Complain to HR? Not every problem is mine to solve.

It’s not like those jokers in HR seemed concerned about the bathrooms during a morning session on employer branding, either. In fact, they were moaning about “the lack of spend” on external branding initiatives.

Only a hero would have said, “Hold up. You know what would help your recruiting efforts? Higher quality TP.”

(I’m no hero.)

Employer branding feels a little like Scientology to me, right now. It was trendy a few years ago when the economy started to improve. Companies had the cash to spend. But now my friends, who should be doing better things with their time, have found themselves helping HR departments “go clear” by conducting “employer brand audits.”

I mean, really, it’s all very harmless except I can’t use the bathroom at a world-class company without digging into my handbag to find a better substitute for chintzy toilet paper.

I don’t dispute that companies need to invest in smart recruitment strategies. That makes sense. But at some point, your best and most fabulous employee will ask you, “Where were you when it seemed okay to spend $25,000 a month to license HR technology while shortchanging our facilities group? What drunk monkey authorized social media management software instead of TP?”

Hyperbole? Maybe. I dunno. I feel like that conversation is on the horizon.

An improving economy—combined with an aging workforce and a general war for talent—means that a reckoning is coming. As a human resources leader, you will be held accountable for your budget recommendations and choices. You should prepare yourself for the moment when someone of substance asks you, “Where were your critical thinking skills? Do you jump on every goddamn HR trend you see just because it’s social?”

(Go ahead and defend Meerkat at that moment. I dare you.)

So if you work in recruiting or HR—and you want to use expensive social systems to share a message about your company that’s probably not even true—you better have an answer as to why employer branding is more important than an employer’s responsibility to take care of its existing employees.

You say it’s not an either/or scenario. I say that Glassdoor, LinkedIn and social media management systems that bolt on to your existing talent acquisition tools are great, but you might want to invest in better toilet paper, first.



  1. Laurie,

    Part of the problem with employer branding is that, at its core, it is misunderstood.

    It’s not about reputation management or marketing communications. Those are ways of propagating the employer brand, but they are not the brand itself.

    An employer brand is a relationship (as are all brands). The employer has an employer brand even if they don’t know what it is. Because they have a relationship with their workers.

    So, in your example, the company in question has damaged the relationship with employees and potential employees by cheaping out on the TP. The implicit message is your amenities and hygiene take a back seat to our cost cutting.

    I recently did an employer brand discovery project for a large tech employer. One of the gripes that hit home was the fact that employees had to pay 50 cents for a cup of coffee. Bad coffee, to boot.

    In an era when many employers offer Starbuck’s or Peets for free, charging for bad coffee sends a very negative message. In an of itself, it really is no big thing. (Don’t like the coffee here? Bring some in that you prefer.) But it is that implicit message that damages the relationship that is the employer brand.

  2. Laurie – It’s not a fad, more companies in the U.S. are adding the employer brand function to their team. Unfortunately most companies don’t fully understand what it can do for them. If you’d like to learn how employer brand can be more science and less Scientology please feel free to contact me.

  3. I agree with D Mark Hornug and you captured it when you asked if employer branding is more important than an employer’s responsibility to take care of its existing employees. You’re right that employee experience comes first as that becomes your de facto employer brand and no amount of money will “paper” over that (if you’ll excuse the pun.)

  4. “employer branding is more important than an employer’s responsibility to take care of its existing employees.”

    Actually, employer branding is just the communication of how a company treats its employees.

    Similar to what David said–the reason employer brand seems like a fad is because people treat it like that.

    When you treat brand as execution (i.e., sharing careers information through social) and don’t have a strategy then it will go away when people don’t care.

    Imagine if Proctor and Gamble did that with consumer marketing and just started talking about a new product without any sort of strategy. They would never do that.

    If we treated employer brand like our consumer brands and have strategy and rigor behind them it wouldn’t seem so faddish.

    And yes, the toilet paper is hugely important, HOWEVER…. you want to know if it’s important to employees. YOU may care, but if the high-performers in the company don’t care, the company shouldn’t focus on it.

  5. Totally agree. Employer branding isn’t just to get talent in the door, but also keeping talent. I was reading a Thomas Peters books and he put the number one indicator of a “we care” sign for an employer is a clean and cared for restroom.

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