Is Branding Camouflage for Bullying in Healthcare?

Paging through an issue of HR Magazine recently, I was shocked to learn that the Workplace Bullying Institute had��discovered the healthcare industry is especially prone to bullying work environments. In��a survey of workplace bullying by industry, the Institute found that 27 percent of those who report being bullied at work or having witnessed workplace bullying are employed in the healthcare field.

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What a contradiction between this data and the "We take great care of you" consumer branding message so often promoted by healthcare organizations!

And here's another paradox: Consumer branding messages have an influence on candidates' expectations of healthcare organizations as employers. In independent research sponsored by Montage, 68 percent of active job seekers surveyed said they expected better treatment from healthcare organizations than from other companies during the hiring process.

Of course, we now know from the Workplace Bullying Institute that these expectations are not grounded in reality.

Given the��crippling talent shortages facing many employers today, can healthcare organizations really afford to send such��mixed messages?

Healthcare Branding Grows Strong

It wasn't that long ago when hospitals and clinics had little or��nothing in the way of marketing budgets. Healthcare organizations didn't really need to do any consumer advertising.

However, as patients began to take more active roles in their healthcare decisions, healthcare organizations learned to respond with stronger marketing efforts. Last year alone, medium and large healthcare organizations in the U.S. set aside an average of $24 million dollars a piece for marketing.

Many healthcare brands have certain messages in common, like highly personalized service and unwavering commitments to patients, families, and the community. This kind of consumer brand sets an expectation for the patient-hospital interaction, and that expectation has carried over to job candidates.

It's not much of a stretch to make this assumption, really. We have come to expect immediate, highly personalized interactions in��everything from flu shots to hospital stays, so why wouldn't we expect the same treatment from the same organizations when we're candidates and employees instead of patients?

In a way, healthcare consumer branding may actually be working too well: Montage's survey of active job seekers indicates that healthcare organizations have to work harder than companies��in other industries to meet the expectations of job candidates.

Authenticity: You Have It or You Don't

To improve��their talent acquisition results, top healthcare organizations have begun to promote employer brands that are modeled on the same values as their consumer brands. Given the blurred lines between consumers and candidates these days, it makes a lot of sense to align consumer and employer brands.

But when you consider this alignment in light of the Workplace Bullying Institute's survey, you are faced with a troubling question: What happens when a culture allows something like bullying, which runs so counter to the consumer and employer brands promoted by many healthcare organizations?

The result is��a loss of brand authenticity ��� a loss felt not only by the current employees, but also by job candidates. Chances are that unhappy employees will share their experiences on Glassdoor, Facebook, and other social channels. Candidates will read these accounts and learn to distrust the happy, positive employer brand an organization is presenting.

To be sure, when bullying happens in the workplace, companies have more immediate problems than brand authenticity. The data on bullying is eye-opening in the worst way: 29 percent of employees who are bullied quit voluntarily, and another 61 percent lose their jobs.

Companies will have serious problems over the long term, too. Those that look the other way when bullying happens risk their talent acquisition success, as well as the engagement of their current workforces.

The employment experience has to match the employer brand message in the candidate experience, or your hiring performance will suffer.

Michele Ellner is the director of marketing for Montage.��