MCLEOD: What the worst companies in America have in common

It’s an ugly list: The 11 worst companies to work for in the U.S.

To identify America’s worst companies to work for, 24/7 Wall St. examined employee reviews posted at job website Glassdoor. To be considered, companies had to have at least 300 reviews. That means at least 300 employees saw fit to reveal what really happens inside their organizations.

The 11 worst companies are, in ascending order of terribleness:

  1. Bank of New York Mellon

  2. GameStop

  3. Rite Aid

  4. Hewlett-Packard

  5. Robert Half International

  6. Sears Holding (Sears/Kmart)

  7. OfficeMax

  8. Hertz

  9. Radio Shack

  10. Dillard’s

  11. Dish Network

As you look at the list, what strikes you? If you said terrible customer service you’d be right. The worst companies to work for also score very low on customer service ratings.

This is not a big surprise.

Engaged employees go the extra mile for customers. Disgruntled employees keep you waiting for 15 minutes while they complain to their sister on their cellphones.

As anyone who has ever stood in line at Kmart or tried to ask a question at Rite Aid can attest, if employees aren’t happy, the customers won’t be happy either.

I have yet to see an organization with passionate customers that does not also have passionate employees. It’s not a chicken and egg thing; employee passion comes first.

Here are two big things the worst companies to work for have in common and how they could fix it:

1. Low trust in the CEO

With the exception of HP, where Meg Whitman scored an 82 percent approval rating, the other 10 CEOs all had low approval ratings. Radio Shack CEO James F. Gooch had a 32 percent approval rating and William Dillard II, of Dillard’s, scored a pitiful 22 percent approval rating.

The big mistake that many senior leaders make is trying to improve external service, without addressing internal service. To put it more bluntly, leaders often believe that they can browbeat employees into providing better service for customers.

This never works, and I mean never.

Recommended action: Pay the CEO on their approval rating. When CEOs are paid on stock price alone, they’re tempted to engage in short-term cuts and policies that hurt employees, and ultimately customers. When you reward CEOs for treating their team right, the team begins to treat the customer right.

2. Incentive programs for quick sales vs. long-term customer satisfaction

Many employees of organizations on the worst list regularly pointed to their organization’s unattractive sales incentives. For example, Dillard employees were paid on number of sales made per hour instead of commission. That policy leads salespeople to compete with each other, and get rid of customers quickly rather than spending time helping them.

Note: Dillard family members do not appear to be paid by hourly sales. The CEO and two other family members made a combined $51 million between 2009 and 2011.

Reframing success — Provide managers with incentives for increasing employee skill and knowledge. Apple Care’s telephone support staff gets rave reviews because they’re paid to help you, not hurry you. Senior leaders can demonstrate that they care about employees and the customers by providing training their team to put the customer first.

Running a big organization isn’t easy; I truly empathize with the leaders that made the awful list. But as my grandmother used to say, if you want to fix a problem, the best place to start is with yourself.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud.”