08/29/2012 11:37 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2012

Dish Network the Country's Worst Employer? CEO: 'That's Ridiculous!'

After the review-your-employer site designated Dish Network the worst employer to work for (based on employee and alumni reviews) Dish Network CEO Joe Clayton called the label "ridiculous." You can read Clayton's fumbling response here. Feedback, they say, is a gift -- so the worst possible response to a tough bit of feedback like the news that you've been selected as the country's worst employer would be pretty much exactly the one Dish Network's CEO settled on. He got defensive. "That's ridiculous." Way to let employees (and customers, and shareholders) know you hear what people are telling you, Joe!

It would have been smarter for Clayton to say "Wow, that's quite a wake-up call. We have our issues, but to get that kind of label is a huge learning experience for me. Obviously, we've got some work to do in the listening-and-empathy department. I'll keep you posted! I'm excited to collaborate with our employees on making Dish Network the best place to work -- watch us do it!"

No such luck. We get "That's ridiculous," because the people who Dish Network chose to employ, the same people who left the company scathing reviews on, those people are obviously idiots. Begging the question "Why did Dish Network hire them?"

I had an experience with a recruiter at Dish Network a few years ago that gave me a tremendous perspective on the company's culture. I was at a recruiting event chatting with a young woman who gave me her business card. Her title was Recruiting Manager. "Are you busy?" I asked her.

"We're swamped," she said. "We have so many openings, we're going crazy. In fact, I was hoping we'd meet some likely candidates here at this event, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen." I gaped at her. The event where we were chatting was clearly a networking event for HR and recruiting types.

"What sorts of people are you looking for?" I asked. "Hispanics," she said. I gave a weak laugh. "But really," I said. "Hispanic employees are our best workers," she said. "They don't complain about the pay." I was disoriented. "But --- you realize that you can't favor one ethnic group over another in your hiring, correct?" I asked, fumbling for words. "We'll hire anyone who's qualified," she said. "But we prefer to hire Hispanic people."

"Is your background in recruiting?" I asked her. "No," she said. "I was a Call Center supervisor until a few months ago, when our Recruiting Manager left. They gave me the job." "There are some absolutely essential things you need to know, if you're going to be recruiting for your company," I said. "Are you familiar with the EEOC, for instance?"

"I'm not!" said the young woman, grabbing her pen and notebook. "Is that an association of Hispanic job-seekers? Do you have their number?"

I don't know whether Dish Network is the worst employer in the U.S. or not. I don't know how you'd even determine that (although Glassdoor's method seems as good as any - they rank employers by the ratio of positive to negative reviews on the site). I would only say that Dish Network has culture problems, and I say that not only because of my experiences interacting directly with Dish folks but because I talk to job-seekers, working people and employers in Colorado for hours every day.

When a culture is broken, it's broken. The word gets out, and the air is poisoned from then on, because good people won't come to work at the company and good people who already work there take off for greener pastures. If the CEO's best response to his employees' feedback is "That's ridiculous," I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Dish's workplace culture to turn around any time soon. Clayton says he's going to poll the employees.

"Hey Joe! I got a message for you! You already polled the troops - just gave your employees a place to type in their stories. You told us already that you think your team's feedback is ridiculous. Why would we expect you to listen to your employees the next time around?"

There are a couple of silver linings to Dish Network's worst-employer designation. Former employees can add to their personal branding statements, "Listen, if I could make things happen in the red-tape-laden, toxic Dish Network environment, imagine what I can do in a functional company like yours!"

Current employees won't need to look far for a "reason for leaving" the next time they apply for a new position. They can say "Well, once Dish Network was declared the worst employer in the U.S., I decided to look for a place where the energy and culture were more central to the mission." Experts always tell you not to bash your former employer when you're on a job interview. Dish folks looking to fly the coop won't have to tell stories about their lives at Dish. They can just say "It was designated the worst place to work in the country." There's nothing equivocal about that.

I wish Dish the best in their efforts to save a sinking cultural ship, but to be honest I'm not optimistic. A CEO who would be clueless enough to tell his unhappy Glassdoor-using employees and alums, "Your impressions are ridiculous" is not likely to be someone who can lead the cultural charge. (Where was Dish's PR person, when the reporter called?)

With luck, CEOs and HR chiefs across the country will be scurrying to to check out their own companies' ratings. What's truly ridiculous is that it would take national embarrassment for a CEO to wake up to the idea that his troops aren't happy.