Why some big brands have higher EVP despite their toxic work culture

Professionals at different levels consider different factors before deciding to engage with a company


“If given a chance, would you switch to a bigger brand with a toxic culture?” was the question I posed to my friend. His response surprised me. He said, “You’d need a stable, high-paying job at some point in your career to ensure growth. For that, you may have to compromise on the other aspects associated with the workplace”!

What is even more surprising is that my friend is not the only one who holds such an opinion. Many like him, in the initial stages of their career, prefer to work with big brands and names that may not necessarily have the best track record in terms of the way they treat their employees.

For Instance, a global e-commerce Company which doesn’t really have a good image when it comes to how it treats its employees. Multiple cases have surfaced over the years, which clearly indicate a toxic work environment in the company. Yet, it seems to have a greater employer value proposition than other companies operating in the same space.

Presently, with the talent market leaning towards being more of an employees’ market, companies operating across levels are investing extensively to ensure optimal employer branding. Hence, talent ending up preferring to be associated with corporations that are infamous for their toxic work culture may seem a little off.

“People may look at associating with toxic workplaces just because of their market presence”

Ramesh Shankar S, former EVP & head of HR, Siemens

Why does this happen? Why do large-scale companies with toxic work cultures still have a higher EVP than others? Let us look at some of the multiple reasons behind this phenomenon.

Market presence: As Ramesh Shankar S, former EVP & head of HR, Siemens, points out, brand image is built over time, and requires a lot of effort. Therefore, “for prospective employees, the brand image may hold greater significance while making a decision,” he says.

After all, “for the kind of companies we are speaking of here, the brand name stands for excellence in terms of their products and customer satisfaction. The name itself is reflective of a market leader. Hence, talent may look at associating with such names just because of their market presence,” he explains.

Compensation: Criteria for decision making will vary from professional to professional, depending on their level. Junior-, mid- and senior-level professionals may consider different factors before deciding to engage with a certain company, believes Shankar.

“They may look at switching jobs on the basis of the kind of compensation or raise they’ll get from the move,” he states. Bigger brands and market leaders generally compensate their employees extremely well, significantly more than what the market is offering. “Some professionals may even consider taking up a job in an organisation because of the location they will be posted in,” he points out. “However, professionals may not necessarily be aware of the company’s work culture before joining. That is something they ascertain during their engagement,” reveals Shankar.

Money is obviously a big factor when it comes to a person’s professional choices, especially for people in a country such as India.

“What they don’t understand is that no company pays a person for free. They’ll expect something in return, in equal measure if not more. A company that pays good will also expect good results, and therefore, the individual would be expected to work under extreme pressure,” cautions Manish Majumdar, former head – HR CoE, Novo Nordisk. He also adds that accepting such large packages may put the talent in the ‘out of the reach’ category in the job market, posing difficulties while switching further.

“I’ve worked with big names that overstretch in order to ensure that only the good things are highlighted more in public”

Senior HR leader working in the IT sphere

Social status: While Majumdar admits that compensation may be a big deciding factor for a professional, another important factor is the social status that comes with associating with a certain brand name. “Engagement with an Amazon or a Google will definitely look good on one’s resume or LinkedIn profile. The connect with such companies begins at a very young age,” points out Majumdar. He goes on to explain that such brands are very strongly positioned in our heads as we have been seeing or hearing of them almost on a daily basis. These brands also have a fantastic social-media presence. “Given the way our lives are going digital, the presence of such brands has grown stronger, leading to a subconscious preference in our minds,” he enunciates.

Limited awareness: Majumdar also draws attention to the top-tier employer branding of the corporate giants. While candidates are usually aware of the thousands of positive stories about these companies, they may not be as aware of the horror stories of their employees, while joining.

That is because, a majority of the large companies invest heavily on PR and marketing. They definitely limit the reach of the negative incidents and stories that threaten to tarnish their public image.

“Engagement with an Amazon or a Google will definitely look good on one’s resume or LinkedIn profile”

Manish Majumdar, former head – HR CoE, Novo Nordisk

A senior HR leader working in the IT sphere tells HRKatha anonymously that many of the leading companies allocate separate budgets to camouflage the negative stories that may give them a bad name as an employer. “I’ve worked with big names that overstretch in order to ensure that only the good things are highlighted more in public,” the leader reveals.

Pursuit of a dream: Lastly, some of these big companies are dream brands for many professionals — names they have always dreamt of being associated with. The true inside story, with regard to the work culture, is rarely known to many prospective employees. However, even after being exposed to the work pressure and toxicity that takes a toll on work–life balance, professionals may still prefer to work with such companies. Many feel they shine more in a work environment which is not as comfortable and entails challenges and extreme work pressure. Such people, despite being exposed to the negative and toxic aspects of the culture at their ‘dream companies’, find it difficult to switch loyalties.

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