READ the October 2021 issue of our magazine: The Skills Gaps Conundrum
In a piece titled “COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment” by McKinsey, the authors commented that managers had done a reasonable job of managing the security, safety and stability concerns of employees up to this point, but that they would need to become more sophisticated if they wanted to hang on to their best people and attract more of them.
This sophistication is proving to be very challenging for employer branding, which often previously sought to showcase the physical attributes of working in an organization – think people, environment, location.
With so many people still working remotely (or not at all), the physical connection to the workplace is in the process of being re-shaped, and employer branding has needed to change gear and reflect this new economy.
Moving beyond the tagline
For many organizations, employer branding projects generally focus on recruitment advertising projects. The focus is to create attractive content to use in advertising online, in print and on social media. We’ve seen companies move beyond corporate websites to TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat to appeal to tech-savvy employees with interactive and appealing media campaigns showcasing the organizational culture and social conscience.
The challenge in the current environment is that employees and candidates are now looking for more meaning and purpose and view some of these campaigns with a level of scepticism. They look for more than words and for something that they can tangibly grasp and experience rather than a slick campaign that makes promises which may not be kept.
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According to the latest annual Employer Branding research from Randstad, good pay and benefits still top the list of motivators globally, however, work/life balance and security move into spots two and three respectively.
We see this reflected in our own projects where the security of employment is regarded as the most important consideration, closely followed by flexibility, work/life balance and purpose (not necessarily in that order).
In general, there has been a push back against employer branding as advertising. Employees see it as marketing but not reality, while candidates are doing their own research to see if the promises are the reality. Organizations of all types are now reconsidering their approach to employer branding, and realising employees and candidates want to understand the employee value proposition (EVP) first before they engage with the 'hype'.
They want to understand what it is like to work for an organization from an employee experience perspective, and a tagline simply doesn’t provide enough insight for them. They want to know what other employees think about the organizations, what customers are saying, and are asking more detailed questions in interviews about the capability of managers.
Organizations have had to realize that spending money on an attractive employer branding campaign simply doesn’t have the same resonance in a market that puts more faith in actions than words.
The great resignation…really?
Another significant trend in employer branding has been the switch to engagement over recruitment. Good talent is scarce, and there is a multitude of reports signalling that a significant number of employees are looking to move to a new role in 2021. An example is Veronica Coombs’ piece in TechRepublic, in which figures from a range of surveys are shared indicating that between 26% and 40% of the employee were considering leaving their current jobs.
Previously, flexibility was heralded as a benefit however now it is mainstream – almost a hygiene factor. If an organization doesn’t offer some form of flexible working then it may be behind competitors depending upon the prevailing industry trends (for example we have seen investment banking leaders call for a return to the workplace for all employees).
With flexibility comes distance, so if an organization's employer brand was focused on physical experiences which can no longer be experienced, then it won’t be relevant. Leading organizations are addressing these challenges by pivoting employer branding efforts to now reflect security and stability combined with challenge and purpose. They are mindful that people still want connection and career development, but they want control over where they work. For some, they can’t wait to be back in an office environment with colleagues, whereas others have sought to relocate and work remotely 100% of the time for a life change. The brand of the employer must reflect an organization's 'flexible approach to flexibility'.
Identifying what motivates the top talent in an organization from the inside out is now the new focus of employer branding, and it goes beyond simply seeking awards such as “Best Employer” and “Employer of Choice”.
These are nice to have, but only if you have the right talent in the first place.
Employer branding to employee value proposition
The third key trend we have seen in the market is a move away from employer branding to employee value proposition (EVP) development.
As noted above, a tagline doesn’t have the substance of a value proposition, and organizations are now realizing a strong EVP is crucial to retaining top people. The key difference can be found in the purpose of employer branding vs an employee value proposition. Employer branding associates itself with promotion. The employee value proposition associates itself with values exchange which has more resonance in the current market.
Where employer branding has traditionally been the domain of marketing folks, we are seeing a trend for them to take a back seat as HR departments and communications take ownership of how employers provide a reason for candidates to join and employees to stay with an organization. Employee experience is playing a much stronger role in defining the messaging, however, leading organizations are also factoring in identifying and overcoming gaps between the experience of their employees and the perceptions of the organization as an employer in the market.
What does the future hold?
Our view is that the changing face of employment will drive organizations to develop more authentic and organic messages to use in recruitment and retention initiatives. Greater awareness of how algorithms work in social media and online, and employees’ and candidates’ desire to understand purpose will drive more organizations to use social networks differently to drive engagement.
For the time being, this will take the form of a stronger focus on employee value proposition development over employer branding.