Having a strong employer brand is crucial to corporate reputation, giving companies not only a recruitment edge in the growing talent war but also the highest-quality long-term ambassadors to deliver on their brand promises.
Employees are more demanding than ever when it comes to what they expect from their employer but this is not purely down to Millennials; employees at all life stages want a career with a deeper purpose.
Getting it wrong and failing to deliver on the employee brand expectation can have consequences that extend well beyond employees; consumers too are demanding more from corporates.
For Council members, there’s little doubt that high-quality employees are a crucial ingredient in any strong reputation. However, the relationship plays out as somewhat of a chicken and egg scenario; organisations with the strongest reputations attract and retain the best talent, and organisations with high-quality and engaged workforces have the strongest reputations.
As one Council member put it, “a brand is what a brand does” and it is employees who bring a brand to life.
So, in building and maintaining strong reputations, it is essential that companies both attract the very best talent to represent their brand, and genuinely engage that talent so as to retain the benefit to the company over the long-term.
The importance of employer branding to reputation.
An increasing focus on the importance of employer branding means that it is no longer the sole domain of HR, and, instead, corporate communicators are increasingly applying an employee – both current and potential – lens to everything they say and do.
Further, in the age of radical transparency, social media means that employees themselves are more visible to consumers, and therefore to potential employees, than ever before. Employees’ voices can be transmitted directly to the public, bypassing any opportunity for corporate censorship and, as a result, these voices are often considered more authentic and believable than the carefully crafted messages that come from communications professionals.
It is in this context that employer branding has increased significantly in strategic importance, now often having high levels of CEO involvement. Indeed, 84% of Council members have seen employer branding become more important over the last five years.
Changing employee expectations
Council members contend that in today’s corporate environment, employees have the ability to drive a company’s strategic direction with their expectations. A very practical example is the way many organisations have responded to employee demands for changing workplaces by relaxing previously strictly formal dress requirements to allow staff to, within reason, dress how they’re most comfortable.
At a more fundamental level, there are increasing demands from employees for transparent and honest conversations about what the company is doing, why it’s doing it and what the social and political implications of the behaviour are. Further, Council members report that the glossy and well-packaged internal comms that corporate communications teams have become so adept at creating are now failing to satisfy this employee appetite, because of what is seen as a crucial lack of authenticity.
The warning is that failing to meet these demands, whether they be centred on dress-codes or authentic communication and engagement, can leave employees disillusioned by the behaviour of big corporates and open to exploring their increasing options to live out the careers they want.
Indeed, while remuneration in exchange for effort is still a key expectation of employees, it is arguably in danger of falling into the hygiene bucket as expectations shift towards more holistic fulfilment.
The role of Millennials
Some Council members feel that it is the changing expectations of Millennials that are putting employers under increasing pressure to adapt and evolve to ensure their brands are appealing to employees of all generations. There is a belief that employees today, especially those in their 20s, are no longer looking for a job for life or a career with one employer, and, as such, employers must work harder and continually prove themselves to be an organisation of choice.
However, others contend that increasing demands on employers pre-date the rise of Millennials and are in fact more associated with general social trends demanding that companies do the right thing and demonstrate good corporate citizenship in many ways.
Supporting this latter view, Ipsos’ research on Millennials reveals that despite claims from the likes of the Daily Mail that the cohort is “spoilt, full of themselves [and] averse to hard work”, Millennials are actually not that different from the rest of society when it comes to what they expect from an employer.
Indeed, rather than being a revolutionary generation set to change everything that comes before them, they are actually behaving in the same way generations before them did when they were the same age.
And, at the end of the day, Millennials and older generations have the same expectations of their employer: to be rewarded for the work they do, to have the opportunity to grow and to work for someone who cares.
The importance of delivering on the employer brand
Council members warned of the danger of being too focused on projecting the perfect employer brand and failing to deliver on those expectations.
While there are several high-profile examples of employer branding going wrong, when brands get it right, the benefits can be considerable and far-reaching. Google has famously been able to position itself as an employer of choice across the globe and it, along with other tech companies, has been able to disrupt the hold financial services companies previously had on attracting the best talent.
Outdoor apparel company Patagonia is another example of how to develop a successful employer brand. By building its environmental mission into its employer branding and recruitment, Patagonia has carefully constructed a consumer-facing workforce that truly “lives the brand” and reinforces this at each customer interaction. The result is an authentic customer experience that is aligned with the brand’s positioning, affirming for staff and good for the bottom line.
The 2017 Reputation Council confirms that the importance of employer branding is continuing to rise and it is those organisations that have recognised this and applied an employee lens across their business that are reaping the reputational rewards.
And, if any more evidence is needed of the importance of having a strong employer brand and engaging employees with a deeper purpose, consumers are demanding this too. Ipsos’ Global Trends research shows that 68% of citizens from 23 countries believe that the most successful brands of the future will be those that make the most positive contribution to society beyond just providing good services and products.
Methodology: 127 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between April and August 2017.