Clothes pegs on washing line

Job-washing leaves new hires high and dry

How this misleading method impacts workplaces and new employees

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
4 minute read
Clothes pegs on washing line

With unemployment still at record lows, competition for top performers is heating up and that’s landing some employers in hot water.

A tight job market has caused some bosses to develop the dirty habit of stretching the truth to tell interested candidates what they want to hear just to get them through the office door.

These bosses are guilty of the new workplace trend of “job-washing” – or being less than squeaky clean with what is on offer in a workplace – in order to entice a job candidate to sign on.

Job-washing usually plays out when someone recruiting waxes lyrically about the pros but not the cons of a job to a candidate.

The best bits of the job and the broader workplace are highlighted while the challenges of the role and the organisation are kept hidden from an applicant’s eyes.

There are assurances of a well-led organisation committed to diversity, a highly engaged workforce and an abundance of career opportunities.

Yet once a person has accepted a job and started work, those benefits mysteriously disappear to leave the new employee hung out to dry and with few options for recourse.

When workplaces aren't what they seem

Job-washing takes its inspiration from similar “laundry” terms like whitewashing (a deliberate attempt to cover up unpleasant facts about an individual or organisation) and greenwashing (when companies make unsubstantiated or obscure claims to create an environmentally responsible image).

Stories of people being lured into new jobs only to discover their employers’ promises were nothing more than soapy froth are washing through workplaces faster than Superman can fold towels on laundry day.

The first-class culture overflowing with effective communication, cooperation and compassion turns out to have been job-washed and consists of nothing more than a load of dirty laundry.

Workers smile even though they are unhappy and use buzzwords that make them sound like they are talking in another language while their contributions in meetings come across as robotic, forced, contrived and over-rehearsed.

Early is on time and on time is late, employees are encouraged to innovate without upsetting the status quo and speaking up masquerades as shutting up and putting up.

Even those open-door policies somehow fail to materialise because most bosses appear irritated when employees arrive on their doorstep unannounced.

If failed promises of an enviable workplace culture are not enough to want new hires to throw in the towel, then dubious claims about work-life balance and the right to disconnect will.

Heavy workloads and unachievable deadlines have workers in such a spin that they feel they have no choice but to let the job wash over into their own time – killing off all hope of separating work from the rest of their lives.

And despite being told an organisation’s leadership is top-notch, some quickly realise their new workplace is plagued with noxious wet-noodle-type managers who bend at the drop of a hat or reverse decisions rapidly to try to remain popular.

Yet perhaps the most common job-washing revolves around flexible work arrangements.

While candidates are told during an interview that flexible working is being embraced, it later becomes painfully obvious that those who wish to work remotely will be treated like second-class citizens.

The impact on employee morale

There is a lot on the line for both organisations and job candidates when bosses seek to job-wash.

Besides the obvious damage to the employment brand of the organisation, the knock-on effects of job-washing can be significant.

Many unhappy starters feel misled and decide to pull the plug on their new workplaces. The time and energy invested in the original recruitment exercise go to waste as the search for a replacement has to commence again.

But not all workers can afford to leave a role that does not live up to expectations. Some decide to stay on with the knowledge their oversold role will never morph into the promised dream job.

Those employees feel less engaged with their employer, their enthusiasm wanes fast and productivity tends to plummet.

What to look out for 

Career experts are increasingly coming up with tips and tricks to assist others from being job-washed.

Speaking to others who work at the organisation prior to accepting an offer, getting written confirmation of the benefits on offer and examining company profiles on review websites such as Seek and GlassDoor are all recommended strategies for wading through the froth and bubbles to get on top of the real challenges of the job and workplace.

Overselling and underdelivering have become far too common in the hunt for new staff.

Making a workplace more appealing should not mean misrepresenting exactly what is on offer.

It is time for all employers to recognise that job-washing in a tough employment market is a short-term strategy that will never be effective in retaining first-class employees.

Let us pour job-washing down the drain by changing the recruitment wash cycle to one which will leave new employees engaged and committed to doing a job that resembles what they were promised during the interview.

Most employees are not expecting the job or company to be perfect. But they do want employers to keep it real.