Ipsos Corporate Reputation

Employer branding – corporate reputation and the war for talent

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.

"WE ARE FIGHTING IN THE WORKPLACE FOR GOOD EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE GOT GOOD SKILLS AND WE ARE FIGHTING FOR EMPLOYEES IN THE WORKSPACE WHO ARE LESS COMMITTED TO A CORPORATE. PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER COMMITTED TO WORKING FOR ONE CORPORATE, THEY ARE MUCH MUCH MORE MOBILE, MUCH HAPPIER TO HAVE THEIR OWN BUSINESSES, TAKE A PAY CUT IN ORDER TO DO SOMETHING THAT MORE REFLECTS THEIR OWN VALUES AND TO WORK WHERE THEY WANT TO."

 

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.

"PEOPLE ARE NOW MOTIVATED BY MISSION AS MUCH AS MONEY. THIS IS SOMETHING MILLENNIALS HAVE BROUGHT TO THE PARTY BUT IT ALSO GOES BEYOND THEM."
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.

"THEIR EXPECTATIONS OF LIFE AND COMPANIES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT FROM THOSE GENERATIONS BEFORE… AND, IN THIS TALENT WAR, IT WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT."

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.

"IT GOES BACK LONGER THAN THE LAST 5 YEARS, I THINK PEOPLE HAVE BECOME MORE DEMANDING OF THEIR EMPLOYERS IN A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS… PEOPLE EXPECT TO BE MORE FULFILLED BUT ALSO TO WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT IS WORTHWHILE… [THAT] THEY ARE PROUD TO WORK FOR OR HAPPY TO ADMIT TO WORKING FOR."

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.

"IT IS GETTING THESE PEOPLE IN BUT THEN YOU NEED TO RETAIN THEM AS WELL. IF YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY GOING TO DELIVER IT, ALL IT WILL DO IS CREATE FRUSTRATION. THEY WILL SAY, ‘THE BROCHURE YOU GAVE ME ISN’T QUITE THE SAME HERE’."

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.

"YEAR AFTER YEAR THERE IS A GREATER EXPECTATION THAT COMPANIES WILL PARTICIPATE IN SOLVING THE MOST IMPORTANT SOCIAL ISSUES.

THOSE COMPANIES THAT ARE NOT JUST GENERATING THE BEST PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ARE THOSE WITH THE BEST REPUTATION, WITH THE BEST ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH CLIENTS AND CONSUMERS. THEY ARE THE COMPANIES THAT GENERATE EMOTIONAL LINKS AND MORE LOYALTY, AND AT THE SAME TIME, THEY ARE THE FIRST IN LINE WHEN CHOOSING THE BEST TALENT."

Final thoughts

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.

Read more from the Reputation Council...

Read more from the Ipsos Corporate Reputation Team...

The Reputation Council Report 2018: Full Report

Welcome to the latest briefing from the Ipsos Reputation Council.

This – our thirteenth sitting – has been the biggest and most international yet, involving 154 senior communicators from 20 countries.

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, once said: “reputation has a habit of arriving on foot and departing on horseback”. In the past year, a welter of high-profile reputation scandals affecting businesses, their leaders and even whole industry sectors has, once again, focused our minds on the risks and rewards of this powerful but potentially volatile asset.

Some of these scandals have posed a genuine threat to companies’ continued survival or licence to operate. Others have fizzled out. In this edition, we examine how Reputation Council members distinguish between issues which might blow up into a genuine reputation crisis, and others that are just day-to-day turbulence. What indicators or early warning systems can communicators draw on, to help them build resilience?

The technology sector has been wrestling with some unprecedented reputation issues recently. Concerns around privacy, data leaks, advertising practices, AI and automation have come together to create the phenomenon of ‘techlash’. We talk to Council members about the implications for their own businesses and the lessons that communicators can learn from the way in which the technology sector is responding to techlash.

We’re also beginning to see greater scrutiny of the role that CEOs should play in external communications, against a backdrop of issues such as pay ratio reporting, gender inequality, shrinking CEO tenures and the ‘celebrity leader’. In this edition, we explore Council members’ playbook for CEO-led communications, and look at how the CCO can ensure that these communications build, rather than destroy, reputation value.

The opportunities and challenges that come with communicating in a global context is a theme we’ve examined in past editions. In this sitting, we ask Council members how they strike the right balance between global and local messaging and narratives, and how they keep a finger on the pulse of their reputation (or reputations) around the world.

Lastly, we’ve introduced some new, ‘quickfire’ sections, in which we analyse Council members’ views on a number of contentious, topical talking points, such as the death of CSR, the distraction posed by social media, the need to pick a side in a polarising society, and whether consumers will overlook poor corporate behaviour if the price is right

I hope you enjoy this edition of the Reputation Council report. Please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about any of the issues covered or discuss how they might affect your own business.

Milorad Ajder
Global Service Line Leader
Corporate Reputation
milorad.ajder@ipsos.com

Read more from the Reputation Council...

Read more from the Ipsos Corporate Reputation Team...

Global Perspectives on Sector Reputations

Which industries are facing the greatest reputation challenges at the moment?

NORTH AMERICA

Media: 44%

Tech: 44%

Pharma: 31%

Despite lingering reputational issues still plaguing the financial services sector, the recent assault on media and tech means that these two industries are seen to be facing the greatest reputational challenges in North America. Each of these industries is named by 44% of Council members.

Beyond these two industries, pharmaceuticals now holds the third position in terms of reputational challenges at 31%. Cost and value continue to drive the conversation, and with the US government putting more of a spotlight on drug costs, these reputational challenges are likely to continue.

"[Media has] got a constant drumbeat of ‘fake news’, how do you overcome that?"
"These are self-inflicted wounds [in the tech industry] – companies are not thinking through the implications of their actions on their customers."
LATIN AMERICA

Construction: 50%

Energy: 41%

Mining: 34%

In Latin America, construction rises to the top as the industry facing the greatest reputational challenges this year (50%). A number of corruption charges have embroiled not only specific companies throughout the region but also politicians and civil servants.

Energy (41%) and mining (34%) round out the top three most challenged industries, predominantly due to environmental concerns and a perception that they bring limited benefits to the local markets.

"There is a public perception that mining pollutes, does not produce profits for the country, and is a group of companies that do not add local value but add value to those who extract the material and take it away."
EUROPE

Finance: 44%

Energy: 43%

Finance remains one of the industries facing the greatest reputational challenge in Europe (mentioned by 44% of Council members). In the words of one Council member, “this crisis has not been solved yet, given that the image reconstruction process appears to be very slow.”

Additional challenges for the financial services sector include cyber security concerns and emerging FinTech players challenging the traditional financial companies.

Energy also continues to face reputational challenges, cited by 43% of Council members in Europe. Issues continue to focus on environmental concerns, climate change, sustainability and consumer costs.

"When energy companies don’t immediately pass on price savings from a barrel of oil to a consumer or to a client, then the negative repercussions are there immediately."
ASIA PACIFIC

Finance: 88%

Energy: 71%

Media: 71%

Consistent with last year, the financial services industry continues to suffer reputational challenges in APAC, though mentions are higher this year at 88% (up from 73% in the last wave). Council members continue to cite the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

The energy sector is also mentioned more frequently than last year (71%), and while affordability and sustainability are still key reasons, government policy is now referenced far more frequently by Council members.

This year, media is also mentioned by 65% of Council members in APAC, with many attributing this to a changing media landscape as well as the resounding cry of ‘fake news’.

"The energy policy is a mess. Can’t separate from political environment."
"The Trump phenomenon and the constant hammering of ‘fake news’."

In full: how Reputation Council members around the world perceived each sector's reputation

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018. Base: All Reputation Council members – Global (145), North America (16), Europe (80), Latin America (32), APAC (17).

Read more from the Reputation Council...

Read more from the Ipsos Corporate Reputation Team...