Current and ex-employees air gripes online

A new Web site allows workers to rate their company—and comment on their own layoff.

A new Web site allows workers to rate their company — and comment on their own layoff

With more than 200,000 U.S. workers laid off in January alone, more and more people are heading online to escape, search for new jobs or commiserate with their fellow unemployed.

That’s where Telonu.com comes in. Telonu — “tell on you” — allows users to read and write about their experiences working at or being laid off from a company. Free membership to the site has jumped by 50 to 100 percent almost every day, and unique users have risen by about 3,000 percent in the last two months, says site founder and CEO Bari Abdul.

Launched in December, the site allows users to post their stories and ratings anonymously, either about a particular company — Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Google and McAfee are some of the most popular — or their gripes in general.

Comments range from biting to more understanding. Of Hewlett-Packard, a former employee wrote:THE WORST company I’ve EVER worked for. It was a blessing to be laid off.”

A former SuccessFactors employee was more sympathetic: “SF is no longer a startup, but a maturing company in a super-competitive business, so it needs to be managed by a seasoned executive, with a track-record of making the right decisions.”

Although Telonu’s concept is not new — the popular, though recently shuttered FuckedCompany.com had a similar agenda — it presents a challenge to communicators who wonder how and if they should respond to the largely negative posts.

“People who are posting to sites like this are usually upset and emotional; companies tend to respond rationally, based on facts, which makes them seem cold,” says Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. “It ends up doing more harm than good.”

At the very least, communicators should monitor what’s being said about them on this and other sites (see sidebar below for additional sites).

“Smart communicators know what people are saying about their company because people are going to read it,” says Terry McKenzie, senior director of global employee communication and communities at Sun Microsystems. “At some point the recession will be over and you’re going to want to hire again. The staffing group [and] attorneys may need to be aware [of the site], monitor chat, see if there’s a trend.”

Tell on you

Abdul, who was previously global head of consumer and small business marketing at McAfee, says he started the site as a resource for job searchers who were interested in reading about a company’s culture before committing to working there.

“We need to make business more transparent, and if we can match the right people with the right company, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Abdul says. “It’s like a dating site that makes capitalism more efficient.”

Layoff stories may be a good outlet for unhappy unemployeds, but they also provide an inside look at how companies treat their employees, morale, and employee opinions within the company.

“It’s qualitative stuff,” says Abdul. “People can talk about how the severance package was, how the layoff was handled, and rate one through five, would you work for the company again? …I think in our society we need stuff like this right now. Your [former] co-workers don’t want to talk to you; you go home and you want to talk to people who are in a similar situation.”

Some laid-off posters are direct and bitter. One ex-employee of Hewlett-Packard, with a comment titled “HP Layoffs — Worthless Company and Managers,” tells the details of his severance package and adds, “The subject line says it all. After 7 1/2 years I got the axe.… My layoff was handled via a conference call in another manager’s office … If you ever get the ‘opportunity’ to work for EDS or HP, RUN the other way!!!!”

Others seem shocked and honest. One anonymous poster said, “I am based at Cisco’s San Jose office and am one of the many employees laid off this week. Still in a state of shock — still reeling from it. I had been there many years so tough, real tough to take that daily schedule away. Have not started thinking about how or why this happened.”

Still others, like the former SuccessFactors employee quoted above, give their advice.

How to respond

The Sun Microsystems page at Telonu.com has about 1,000 views, five comments, and two layoff stories posted. Sun’s overall rating is four stars out of five. For a company that has had to lay off about 10,000 people in the past two years, that’s pretty good.

One anonymous ex-employee gave Sun five stars for how it handled his layoff, but three stars when asked if he’d work there again.

“Morale in my area is/was in the crapper,” he wrote. “Sun is a great company that has lost its direction. Too much clueless, overpaid management with no idea what to do next… The layoff was handled professionally, and Sun has always treated its people very well, so I was expecting no difference. The only thing that would stop me from working there again is that I believe they are currently just circling the bowl, waiting for the final flush.”

McKenzie credits Sun’s relatively positive reviews with its generous severance packages. She suggests the Telonu site should be monitored by corporate communicators internally. Even if someone does post something that is not factual or that harms the company’s reputation, there’s not much a communicator can do.

“There’s nothing I can say,” McKenzie says. “If people are writing about customer service or a product, that’s something you can and should respond to. When someone is saying things like ‘You’re an awful company and your leaders are stupid,’ it’s venting, not looking for help.”

Holtz suggests that instead of responding to an offensive post on Telonu or similar sites, address the facts in a post on your company’s blog.

“Trust in companies is low, so it seems to me you’re really not going to win, even with the facts on the table,” says Holtz. “If you’re worried it’s going to spread, correct it elsewhere where people are going to listen.”

Ike Pigott, social media expert and active blogger, suggests monitoring the comments in case something starts becoming viral. Pay particular attention to posts that are believable, short, focused and articulate.

“If it triggers most of those indicators, then you’ve got a viral message on your hands,” he says. “I don’t advise people to immediately start attacking the source. But it gives you the lead time to work on your reactive talking points.”

Haven’t heard of Telonu?

Maybe you’ve heard of these five similar sites:

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