Companies with the right values and favorable workplaces attract and motivate the best talent. As I pointed out in my book, Value Leadership, that talent creates industry-leading products and provides great customer service. The result is customers who keep coming back for more -- which rewards shareholders with faster and more profitable growth.

It's a nifty formula and one that's very hard to pull off. One way to overcome the challenges of making valued leadership work is to look at the companies that employees dislike the most, find out why, and do the opposite. 

To that end, I perused the 18 worst companies to work for according to 24/7 Wall St., which created its list by reviewing Glassdoor ratings for all companies with at least 3,000 reviews on June 5, 2019, and homing in on the ones with employee satisfaction scores below 2.6 (where 5=very satisfied and 1=very dissatisfied). 

1. Fulfill your commitments.

A common thread that runs through the 18 worst companies is stark hypocrisy. In many of these companies, management spouts slogans that sound great, but they encourage the opposite behavior.

An example is software company CompuCom, rated the 11th worst place to work. Its website says that its associates "are the heart and soul of our company and the value we deliver to clients." But according to 24/7 Wall St., many of its employees regularly complain that pay is low, raises are infrequent, and professional growth and promotion are rare. 

If you want employees to love your company -- do the opposite of CompuCom. More specifically, communicate a compelling mission to attract the best people and reward those who act accordingly. 

A case in point is Southwest Airlines, which, according to its former president, thinks of itself as a customer service company that happens to fly airplanes. Treating people well is so important that the former president told me about a time when a candidate for a pilot's job was rude to the person who took his flight reservation. When the candidate arrived at Southwest's Dallas headquarters, he was informed that he would not continue in the interview process because of his rudeness.

2. Communicate with your people.

Another common employee complaint is that executives do not communicate with them. This is what I have jokingly referred to as the mushroom school of management -- keep your employees in the dark and smother them in manure.

Conduent, an 82,000 employee company that manages digital payments and claims processing for businesses, ranks sixth on 24/7 Wall St.'s list. Its employees complain of a lack of communication with management, no raises, and infrequent performance reviews.

To create great employee relations, do the opposite. Specifically, describe your mission and values, listen to your employees, recognize people who embody your values. Consider Kronos, the top-ranked place to work in 2018 according to The Boston Globe for its "culture of caring and commitment to giving employees flexibility, responsibility, and respect."

Its CEO, Aron Ain, spoke to my students last fall, after which one of them told me they were compelled by Ain's trust in his employees. They saw it as a very respectful style of management and said they'd be honored to work there.

3. Provide your people with opportunities for advancement.

Many workers in the worst 18 companies complain that they are like call centers. I would guess such workers must make a specific number of calls a day and hit their sales goals. Eventually, they burn out and quit -- leaving management to hire fresh replacements.

A case in point is Charter, the 15th worst employer on the list -- a 98,000 employee cable, internet, and telephone provider. Negative reviews on Glassdoor said Charter's "work environment closely resembles that of a call center, and that upper management can be overbearing," according to 24/7 Wall St.

To do better, treat your employees with respect and give them opportunities for advancement. Consider New England grocery chain Market Basket. It's been five years since its 25,000 employees went on strike to save the job of its CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas.

Market Basket's employee loyalty and productivity enable it to earn much higher profit margins than its rivals. As I wrote in 2014, many Market Basket employees have been with the company 40 years. The chain promotes from within -- former grocery baggers ascend to senior positions and get paid more than their peers at other companies. But its workers are much more productive -- Market Basket had only six employees working as grocery buyers -- one-fifth the number of grocery buyers as at a similarly sized chain. 

The worst companies to work for share a fundamental belief that employees should obey orders and suffer in silence. Just do the opposite: Hire great people, give them opportunities to advance, model innovation and care for customers. If you do, your employees, customers, and investors will be better off.

Published on: Jul 8, 2019
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