How Volkswagen Rallied Its Employees After Its Emissions Scandal (At Least For Now) – Forbes

Volkswagen’s bounced back from its 2015 emissions scandal by embracing a strategy of transparency and the public consumption of crow. Its workers, once shamed, have regained confidence and morale–but for how long? (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

When German car manufacturer Volkswagen AG was discovered in 2015 to have cheated on emissions test, the company’s reputation took a long, slow, face-first slide through the muck. Internally, too, the company’s employees reported a drop in trust for the auto giant.

But those feelings have changed as VW worked to win back the respect of its personnel. So says a report from Kununu, a Vienna-based employer reviews platform with more than 1.5 million critiques on 320 plus companies in Europe, as well as nearly 500,000 reviews for about 60,000 companies in the U.S.

Overall, Kununu has 514 reviews from VW employees—269 of which were logged following the 2015 scandal in which the company was discovered to have outfitted millions of its vehicles with software designed to allow them to beat emissions tests. The reviews show an unsurprisingly dramatic downturn in the wake of the ordeal, says Johannes Prüller, head of global communications for Kununu. “The company culture of Volkswagen was always about trust, integrity, reliability maybe,” says Prüller. “With the scandal they somehow managed to put all of that at risk.”

Kununu

VW workers felt there company had taken a serious hit to its public image in the wake of its emissions scandal.

“Before the scandal broke,” Prüller explained, “if you compared the data we have for Volkswagen with BMW, Mercedes and also its own subsidiary, Audi, Volkswagen was rated best in almost every dimension of workplace satisfaction that we measure on Kununu.” When news of its emissions testing misconduct emerged, those positive numbers tanked. “They were rated worst in 12 out of 13 (dimensions).”

The fallout from the emissions scandal brought scorching consequences for VW: billions of dollars in fines, years of probation and oversight by an independent monitor to prevent future misconduct, the resignation of VW chairman Martin Winterkorn, and a hefty portion of disgrace. To regain the favor of its demoralized staff, VW employed a strategy of openness and outreach.

“They made sure that everyone knew what had happened and also what would happen next,” says Prüller. “Just as they publicly admitted guilt in external communications… they had the same direct, face-to-face communication internally as well, as the first step in rebuilding trust.” VW encouraged employees to express their feelings and concerns, Prüller says, and sought to provide information on the ongoing ordeal.

On Kununu’s platform, each employee review can be responded to by the employer. Of the 500 reviews logged by VW workers, management has addressed 170 of them—a high percentage for any company, says Prüller. “Not that many employers engage in this process of reacting to feedback.”

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