Making the “Best Places to Work” List Can Damage Your Reputation

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Any drop in your “Best Places to Work” list ranking will look like a spiral of decline, says reputation management expert Dan Hill. Is it worth the risk?

Business people clapping and smiling in celebration of their company’s ranking on the “Best Places to Work” list.

Photo: Adobe Stock

So one of your organization’s resolutions is to make a “best places to work” list this year. What’s the plan: Ping-pong tournaments? Massage therapy?

“Best place to work” obviously beats making the “worst places to work” list but there are hidden risks leaders should consider before launching a campaign to earn such recognition. Many years ago, my first firm made a similar list in our local paper; a few employees nominated us without my knowledge. It was hugely flattering, especially given that it was organic, but ultimately we politely asked to be removed from the list before it went to print.

On its face, receiving such high praise sounds like a no-brainer. But what if your company drops from number three to number ten; worse, what if it falls from the list altogether? It might sound absurd that an organization would suffer reputation harm as a result of dropping off an arbitrary list, but that is exactly what happens. Negative trends indicate decline, even when the trend pertains to something as positive as being listed among the best.

Trends and their consequences are visible in all aspects of life, including sports and politics. A political front-runner suffering declining poll numbers is said to be “spiraling” while their opponent is often said to have “momentum.” We humans love a good “falling from grace” story as much or more as stories of triumph. Consider a top NFL prospect who, prior to the draft, drops from number one to five at his position – the media might even place a red down arrow next to his name to visually indicate a drop (negative trend). Human nature causes one to seek progress and continuous improvement, which is why climbing from 20th to sixth is perceived more favorably than falling from first to fifth, even though five is obviously one ahead of six.

If an enterprise chooses to pursue such recognition, it should do so knowing that it is a many-year commitment; falling off of a list is worse than not making it in the first place.

Before establishing such praise as a goal, ask yourself if this is what your top performers need to stay content. My experience is that the best and the brightest view these kinds of awards as folly — distractions from what matters most. It is often the bottom-tier performers who get excited about such pursuits, and generally are the most vocal in suggesting what will make them happier in the workplace. Is it wise to focus energy and resources on new ways to satisfy your worst employees at the risk of agitating your top people?

There are noble and well-deserving reasons employers make these lists, it’s not all bean bag chairs and beer-on-tap, even if the perception is otherwise. Work environments should match an organization’s culture and values, placing all employees in the best setting to succeed. If resources and time are to be aimed at enhancing your workplace, focus those on recruiting and keeping top talent; investments in poor performers should be directed at improving outcomes and not in making your least deserving people more comfortable.

For more of Dan Hill’s reputation management insights, check out his Q&A interviews on protecting your employer brand reputation and negotiating with candidates like a pro.

Dan Hill, reputation management expert and president of Hillimpact
About the author

Dan Hill is America’s most quoted expert on reputation management and president of Hill Impact. Follow him on Twitter @hillimpact.

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