“Communication is king”
Anne Juliane Wirth, 27, is Manager Communications & Brand at kununu.com, the largest employer review website in Europe, with locations in Vienna, Berlin, Porto and Boston. A numbers nerd, she knows that people spend an average of 3,716 days at work, which is equivalent to 16 per cent of one’s adult life. It might not sound a lot, but the impact of that on one’s well-being is considerable. And that is why Anne Juliane Wirth tells people time and again: “Don’t be distracted by a big name, find a better employer, one that speaks to your own needs and holds the same values you do as an individual!” This interview was conducted via email.
Anne, everything at kununu revolves around the world of work – employees reviewing their employers. Have employers started to take steps to create a better working environment as a result?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful turn of events that employers now recognise the appeal of review sites. For one, this means they have realised that their own careers portal and the most attractive promotional brochure is no longer going to be enough to present themselves as an attractive employer or to recruit talented individuals. When someone is looking at potential employers these days, they are looking online – and they are definitely clicking and scrolling through other people’s testimonials. For job seekers it’s a case of: knowledge is power. Before putting in that effort to gather all their documents together to submit, they’ll scan employer review sites to get a sense of the reality behind the company’s public face: What does the company do well, what is the corporate culture really like, where exactly are the problems?
And are there real consequences?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: The kind of reviews an employer gets has a major effect on whether a talented individual will even apply for a job there. More than 80 per cent of people looking for a change will take reviews written by others into account when they make their decision. Of these, 46 per cent felt reinforced in their decision for a company, while 54 per cent ended up deciding against a company as a future employer. In a nutshell: After a bit of research, it is generally going to be one’s gut feeling that decides whether applying for a job is worth it and whether a potential employer matches what the individual is looking for. That may include a collegial working environment, better career perspectives or the benefits package.
Digitalization has also changed things in this respect, right?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: Digitalization has brought an element of transparency to corporate structures. It would only be exaggerating a little bit to say that there has been a certain shift in power and those days are well and done when an employee was just another human resource carrying out decisions made by others behind closed doors. Review sites gather together feedback from current and former employees. A good corporate culture includes the ability to accept criticism and to learn from it – ideally in a way that is obvious to everyone.
Will work continue to change? The possibilities provided by kununu are just the first step.
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: Our generation is much more confident on the job market. New Work is obviously becoming more important for employees. The term describes a model that focuses on people’s needs instead of profit. Young people with a lot of potential can’t be lured by money alone any more. Our data at kununu demonstrate quite clearly: Young employees in particular are more interested in a flexible relationship between their private and professional lives. A recent analysis based on more than 55,000 search queries identified the benefits that job seekers consider most relevant: company cars, smartphones and even bonuses are less and less important. It’s much more important that the job be aligned with the person’s own interests and needs. In more concrete terms, this means: flexible working hours (51 per cent), the ability to work from home (34 per cent) and being allowed to bring one’s dog to the office (27 per cent) were the most frequent requests. The lesson to be drawn from the mismatch between what employers are offering and what job seekers are looking for is obvious: Ideally, the job’s benefits package should be crafted in dialogue with the (potential) employee, reviewed on a regular basis and adjusted when warranted. The companies that will be successful are those that can express – clearly and without any hackneyed clichés – what sets them apart from other employers and that are able to communicate this difference on sites like kununu, which are being used and read by more and more people.
In your talk you mentioned that in your office you exchange actual physical thank-you cards once a week –it is also important to think about how people work together and interact with one another. What does this expression of mutual appreciation mean for you?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: People who enjoy being at work are more productive, more creative and feel more connected to the company. But as with many other things, this is easier said than done. It really helps if you have a corporate culture in which people feel comfortable and can laugh with their colleagues. Team spirit among colleagues is, incidentally, the highest rated category on kununu.com. The company has a really warm atmosphere, it’s a place where colleagues become friends – but where they can still have serious discussions with one another too. That’s really important to me.
Are these thank-you cards a substitute for a lack of communication at some other level, for example in meetings or in the kitchenette?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: No, not a substitute, rather the best kind of supplement. Our “kudos cards” are simply an expression of mutual appreciation and a recognition of a job well done. They are seen as an additional channel for feedback among all the members of a team. This works really well even across teams and among the four kununu office locations. The kudos cards are distributed to the colleagues who have earned them. First they appear in electronic form in the weekly internal newsletter and then once a month the physical cards are delivered to colleagues. Praise and recognition don’t just feel good; I think they are an incredibly important part of ensuring that someone feels comfortable in a job over the long term.
Will the value of communication continue to change in future?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: Communication is king. Providing information to employees is gaining in prominence as an aspect of corporate communication. Our data backs this up: When all 13 assessment categories on kununu.com are directly compared, “communication” ends up in last place with an average score of 3.33 out of 5 points – the lowest rated one. From that we can conclude that employees want their employers to promote a more open dialogue and create more transparency, also in respect to their own performance. Our data show in particular that employees complain that they get all too little feedback from their managers. The desire for more feedback was explicitly brought up in nearly 20 per cent of all of the written reviews posted on kununu.com in the past year. That shows there is a need. I think companies will need to integrate more self-organising tools to improve coordination and decision-making. They will deploy unique social networks to improve their project management and communication structures.
Could you do your job from home?
ANNE JULIANE WIRTH: Give me a MacBook, an iPhone and an internet connection and I’m ready to go. I often use the option to work from home. Nevertheless I also really value coming together with a team. One example: I’m texting this interview from Hamburg since it was vital that I can get together with colleagues from different locations in one place to have that optimum productivity, targeted creativity and team spirit we need to finish a particular project. In my opinion, creativity happens when you’re together with colleagues in one place, where you brainstorm as a group in a totally unmediated way.