Bad company: when your organization’s reputation starts to hurt your own

Earlier this summer, there were a number of stories about current and former White House staffers complaining about not being able to date in DC thanks to their boss, President Donald Trump.

Many vented their frustration, saying they’re on a social blacklist because of their boss and his controversial (to put it extremely mildly) public profile. While the vast majority of these individuals probably never met Trump himself, or even supported all his policies, their association with such a divisive person negatively impacted their reputation.

Not being able to land a date is one thing. But what happens when staying on with your employer means tarnishing your professional reputation, perhaps permanently?

There are instances when public figures cross a line that is just too far, and require immediate action. Wanda Sykes, who was a consulting producer on hit show Roseanne, quit before ABC Entertainment had a chance to publicly comment on the racially-charged tweets sent by Roseanne Barr, which ultimately caused the sitcom to get cancelled.

The same can be said for top staffers in former Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown’s office. When news broke of allegations of sexual misconduct against him, many of his closest advisors took to Twitter announcing their immediate resignation before Brown even held his press conference. They full well knew that in the court of public opinion, especially in politics, they needed to distance themselves from Brown’s now tarnished reputation.

Since quitting one’s job on a whim is not a choice many can afford, there are options for employees who find themselves being tarred with the same brush as the C-suite, or even the organization’s brand.

We spoke with Evangeline Berube at Robert Half Management Resources, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, to gather some insights on what to do when your organization’s negative brand threatens your own.

Provident: At what point does a company's or a senior executive’s negative reputation begin to affect that of their employees?

Evangeline Berube: That really is dependent on the individual ideals of an employee. On one hand, they may not consider their leader’s reputation as having much of an influence on their day-to-day; on the other hand, a professional may feel their leaders’ reputations are representative of the work they do, and a reflect on their own.

More often than not, people want to support and work for companies that serve a larger purpose and help their communities. They want leaders who demonstrate a commitment to something bigger than themselves and may get disenchanted or disengaged with their own work when they feel that their manager doesn’t live up to their own vision of the organization. They may not feel proud of the work they do and start looking for an organization that better represents their professional and personal principles.

Successful businesses make goodwill, philanthropy and engaging corporate involvement part of their culture. This includes giving employees time and resources to dedicate to charitable and community activities and aligning leadership goals with individual goals.

P: Do employees have any options to help protect their personal reputation other than quitting?

EB: Everyone influences culture, whether they proactively try to or not. The best way for employees to protect their reputation is by entrenching a positive reputation for themselves among colleagues and within their network.

Lead by example, and embody the type of corporate culture you seek for your company. For instance, you can foster a culture of recognition by acknowledging colleagues’ work and celebrating their successes. Additionally, you can:

  • Talk to your manager about the culture you think is right for the company. If you’re looking for changes, don’t gripe. Talk about how the company can benefit and ways you can help.

  • Thank colleagues for their help.

  • Build rapport with coworkers, and take an interest in their well-being and that of the people network.

  • Be a resource for your colleagues and peers, including by offering to help when possible.

P: Does working for a company with a bad reputation impact future employment opportunities?

EB: In our experience, it has more of an impact on the business itself rather than the employees who work for them. It makes it more difficult to recruit top talent, and keep top talent.

When employees or job seekers feel that their leaders aren’t living up to the ideals of the business, or misrepresenting the values of their teams, they run the risk of their workers becoming disengaged, unmotivated, resentful and ultimately ready to leave.

When looking for future employment, how workers handle the way they left a company or leader they no longer related to may actually say a lot about them to future employers. Leaving on a positive note while maintaining their individual ideals, shows a strength of character and a commitment to professionalism.

P: Should employees speak out publicly against their employer to distance themselves?

EB: Sometimes silence speaks volumes. Ultimately, leading by example and living the ideals you want your leadership to embody says more about what you represent as an individual and as a professional.

As the famous saying from Warren Buffett goes “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and give minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” At Provident, we couldn’t agree more and have seen first hand just how fast things can change. That why it’s important to have a plan in place to not only respond to potential crisis, but also recover and rebuild any reputational damage sustained. We’d also like to thank Evangeline for taking the time to share her insights on this issue, and we hope you found it as beneficial as we did.