A Growing Workplace Crisis for Google?

google blog

On November 1st, 2018, 20% of Google’s employees participated in a walkout to protest Google’s sexual harassment policy, lack of transparency, and non-inclusive culture.

For the past 11 years, Google has always had a strong or excellent reputation in the US and this recent news comes as a shock to many who hold the company in high esteem. It has certainly muddled the image of Google’s seemingly idyllic work environment and employee perks that have made the company a top employer of choice for many in the US and around the globe.

Google’s strong leadership, commitment to corporate responsibility, an especially strong score in Workplace and all-around strong products and services, have equipped Google with reputational equity. Looking more closely at its performance over 2018, Google’s reputation is statistically stable, but there is a downward trend in the most recent months (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Google’s Reputation in the US (3-month rolling average January 2018-November 2018)

google reputation

This statistically insignificant decline is Google’s reputation equity at work, acting as a crisis mitigation buffer.

But to truly understand the impact of the recent sexual harassment policy scandal, we need to focus on Google’s reputation among the informed US General Public, those who are familiar with the news.

Sexual Harassment and Employee Walkout Impact on Google’s Reputation

Out of the 216 respondents in this study, 34.7% have read or heard about the sexual harassment scandal and employee walkout. Among this group, Google’s reputation score is in the average range, and 12.9-points lower than the excellent reputation among respondents who are not familiar with the news (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Sexual Harassment Policy & Employee Walkout Impact on Google’s Reputation

google blog sexual harassment

The scandal has a significant negative impact on all 7 dimensions of reputation, but especially on Governance with a 14.4-point decline, followed by Citizenship and Leadership, with an 8.5-point and 8.1-point decline, respectively (Figure 3).

While Google is suffering in many key areas of reputation, it is this perception of Google as an ethical and transparent company that has been most damaged. Our data shows that Google is failing in the categories of behaves ethically and is an open and transparent company. Google scores more than 20.0 reputation points lower among those among those familiar with the news and the scores are in the weak range (40-59).

In the area of Governance, Google is now on par with companies in the Energy and Financial Services industries – not an easy place to be, reputationally speaking.

Figure 3: Sexual Harassment Policy & Employee Walkout Impact on Google’s 7 Dimensions of Reputation

google blog dimensions

Google promised to Do No Evil and is now seen to have done so by many of its employees, as well as by the General Public. What once was taken as a given, now has a cloud of doubt, and the percentage of fence sitters – those who are either not sure or ambivalent about a company’s performance in a certain dimension – regarding Google’s Governance, Citizenship, and Leadership have increased by 9 percentage points.

With the increase of uncertainty, comes the decline of trust. And this can be seen in the case of Google. Among those familiar with the news, Google drops 29.8%-points in trust, 27.0%-points in benefit of the doubt, and 20.9%-points in willingness to work for the company.

Key Learnings

Reputation is a crisis buffer. Overall, among the General Public, Google has maintained its strong reputation. Years of outstanding work in corporate responsibility, strong leadership, and the consistent delivery of high-quality products and services empower Google to maintain strong levels of emotional connection in the US; a connection that acts as a buffer in times of crisis.

Even the mighty can fall. Reputation risk is a reality for all, even for technology titans like Google. Our data shows that among the population familiar with its recent sexual harassment policy scandal, Google suffers a significant reputation decline. Along with its average reputation score, the perception of Google as an ethical and transparent company is put into question, and there is a significant decline in trust.

Communicate transparency without hesitation. To maintain its current levels of reputation and recover, Google must not take this event for granted. Google’s leadership must present the facts of the allegation, provide steps to ensure this kind of event does not occur again and create a platform for an open and transparent discussion with key stakeholders, including employees and the General Public.

About the Study:
This study is a survey based on more than 200 ratings from the Informed General Public in the US collected in November 2018. It evaluates the reputation of Google, awareness of latest news on Google, specifically of the recent sexual harassment policy scandal and employee walkout, and it evaluates this news’ impact on Google’s reputation and business support.

Ana Angelovska

Ana Angelovska
Research Director
Reputation Institute                                   

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