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 AI Paradox: Businesses must not overlook their responsibility to reputation as investment in this technology grows

Digital technologies, from social media to Artificial Intelligence (AI), have undoubtedly altered peoples’ lives – some for the better, some for the worse. We’ve seen the rise of intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa, grown reliant on communication platforms to keep in touch with friends and family, and have witnessed the positive impact of wearable technology in healthcare.

According to a 2017 PwC report[1], AI technology could deliver a 10% increase in the UK’s GDP by 2030, provided that different types of AI technologies are invested in. To nurture this potential, in early March the government outlined a plan to position the UK as the global leader of artificial intelligence[2]. The plan incorporates investing in R&D, helping people develop skills for the new age of AI, and supporting sectors in boosting their use of AI and data analytics technologies. The hope is to create resilience among the UK’s workforce as the use of AI becomes widespread across sectors and helps boost the economy.

The indication that AI is the future is evident among business leaders too. In a recent study by Ipsos, the authoritative Captains of Industry, three in five stated they have already invested in digital technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Another third plan to invest in the next five years, as businesses prepare for the utilisation of AI technologies, align with government priorities, and foster the potential for economic growth – especially in a post-pandemic world

However, while the benefits that could be reaped from digital technologies are limitless, it doesn’t come without its challenges. In an Ipsos poll published by the World Economic Forum, four in ten adults across the world said they are worried about the use of artificial intelligence, and nearly half of adults globally agree that the use of AI by companies should be regulated more strictly than it currently is[3]. In another poll, less than one in five adults in the UK believe their job will be automated in the next 10 years, and almost four in five feel confident they already have the skills to carry on with their current employment in the future – contrasting senior leaders’ perspective of digital technologies potential.

While government and businesses are working toward unlocking AI’s potential, efforts will need to be put in place to convince employees of AI’s positive societal impact, the need for upskilling, and the benefits it could bring to jobs in the UK. Uplifting the reputation of AI and automation will need to be at the forefront of the government’s transformational strategy – especially as trust in the sector[4] hit an all-time low in 2020, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Companies such as Microsoft have already taken some steps toward convincing the public in their efforts toward responsible technology by publishing six ethical principles to guide the development and use of artificial intelligence[5], with focus on working closely with employees and teams across the company to enable this effort. The government is also taking steps on this by launching an independent Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation that will advise on the ethical use of data, ranging from evaluating its social and economic impacts through to its fair and responsible application across businesses.

These efforts are a step in the right direction. Digital technologies are notorious for their fast evolution, with policies and regulations coming too late to resolve issues that have already left a negative mark on society and employment. Governments, businesses, and industry experts will need to work coherently and transparently when implementing AI, and work toward foreseeing issues with its implementation before they happen.

Building trust with the public will be key, alongside convincing the UK workforce of the benefits for upskilling, with a focus on fully communicating how utilising digital technologies would affect society and employment, both positively and negatively. Turning the UK into a global AI leader will be a challenging endeavour, but as long as we remember that having the capability to create technology is not all it takes for its success, realising all of its social and economic benefits are very much within our grasp.

Article links

[1] https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/assets/ai-uk-report-v2.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-strategy-to-unleash-the-transformational-power-of-artificial-intelligence

[3] https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/wef-artificial-intelligence-press-release

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/news/story/were-losing-our-trust-in-tech-5042340/

[5] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/responsible-ai?activetab=pivot1:primaryr6

For more information please contact:

Nadya Valkova
Research Manager, Corporate Reputation

Nadya.Valkova@Ipsos.com

What drives judgement of an organisation’s reputation?

An important focus for Ipsos Corporate Reputation is to help our clients understand what drives their reputation, in other words, what are the issues stakeholders think about when they make judgments about companies and organisations. In this article we will show what are the key aspects organisations should be mindful of according to MPs and business journalists who we regularly interview.

What exactly drives reputation will vary from one organisation to another – there isn’t a single, off-the-shelf answer to this. Feeding into an organisation’s reputation will be elements of what it does (for example, product quality and innovation), what it stands for (such as business acumen, ethics, corporate social responsibility and ESG performance), expectations and perceptions of the sector it’s in, expectations of business and industry, and other wider context issues. Furthermore, an organisation’s delivery against its corporate promise needs to match or exceed the expectations it creates.

There will be many tangible benefits that an organisation gets from building reputation value. It will, for example, help ensure your point of view is heard in policy making and regulation, make stakeholders more receptive to communications, build resilience to draw upon during times of crisis, and strengthen your employer brand.

Factors shaping reputation will vary from company to company, as reputation isn’t formed in a vacuum. It is shaped by perceptions of the sector, by the ongoing socioeconomic climate and policy agenda, as well as the behaviour, performance and communications effectiveness of a company. However, MPs and journalists have told us which issues they tend to consider when they from opinions about companies and organisations, which we’ll discuss here.

The most common consideration for business journalists when judging an organisation tends to be its financial performance. Often, this is seen to be a hygiene factor which an organisation needs before it can start to credibly engage with other issues. As one national business journalist states;

“If you haven't got that [financial performance] you can't do anything else. If you're not a viable business nothing else really matters. You can be as nice as you like to everyone else but if you're going to go bust, there's no point.”

Other common considerations today among business journalists include quality of management, treatment of customers, treatment of employees, and how it engages with journalists.

Journalists tell us that there are three key benefits for an organisation from engaging well with them; it allows journalists to get an organisation’s message across in the pieces they write, it could position an organisation in a more favourable light, and it helps journalist to report more accurately and less one-sided. As a regional business journalist explains;

“You're never going to stop bad headlines if things go badly but engagement on a number of specific issues such as remuneration, climate change, you know if I have a full understanding of a company's policy and why it's doing something, I'm much less likely to shot from the hip. If I have a full understanding of that company's strategy and why something has happened, I'm probably going to have a more holistic, a fuller appreciation of what that is rather than just writing "This is a bloody disaster"”

Indeed, between 2015 and 2017 we saw that engagement with journalists rose in importance as an important factor (see illustration below), and it has maintained its importance ever since. It’s also interesting to note how treatment of employees has become an increasingly important factor for journalists; as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions start to ease and companies announce their plans for their employees (a return to office working or a continuation of remote, flexible or hybrid working), companies need to be mindful of how their demands of employees might be perceived and how this might impact on their reputations.

Meanwhile, the factors that MPs most commonly consider when judging organisations are treatment of employees, track record, financial performance, social responsibility and environmental responsibility.

When asked to rate each aspect in terms of importance, treatment of employees has over time continuously been rated as an important attribute by MPs, while social and environmental responsibility is becoming increasingly important:

However, which aspects are of most importance does to some extent depend on which side of the House an MP sits on.

For Conservative MPs, a company’s track record and financial performance are the key considerations – and financial performance is far more commonly mentioned by Conservative MPs than Labour MPs. As one Conservative Backbencher states;

“Longevity is important, successful track record in either financial terms or stuff they sell or market. The reality is you don't really know about their CSR. The brand reputation is hugely important.”

Meanwhile, the key aspect for Labour MPs is treatment of employees (a far greater consideration among Labour MPs than Conservatives), followed by social responsibility. As one Labour Shadow Minister sates, the way a company treats their employees can be seen to be a reflection of the wider ethos of a company;

“First and foremost, in terms of the management and the whole ethos, the way they treat their employees… how employees are treated is very important to me, are they on proper contracts, are they paid properly, do they have security of employment, do they have things like pensions.”

In line with the views of Labour MPs, our most recent wave of the Reputation Council showed that corporate communicators commonly view employees as a stakeholder group which is increasingly influential on company reputations (legislators, such as MPs, are also seen to be increasingly influential by corporate communicators). Employees are no longer an afterthought for corporate communicators and are increasingly treated “much more seriously as a sophisticated stakeholder audience” and a trusted and credible source of information about a company.

Once organisations understand how key stakeholders form their opinions of them and their competitors, and how they perform against these criteria, they can then put plans in place to target communications more effectively – as well as identifying how (and if) an organisation needs to ‘course correct’ to deliver against stakeholder expectations. In terms of planning a communications strategy, further insight on how best to engage with MPs can be found in our recent post: Creating relevant and engaging comms with MPs for effective corporate planning.

Ipsos MORI can help you better understand what drives opinions about your organisation among various stakeholder groups, and the steps you need to take to bolster the way you are perceived to perform on those key attributes. We provide tailored advice through bespoke research and/or through our syndicated stakeholder surveys among legislators, journalists, business leaders and investors.

Want to know more about our MPs and Business Journalists syndicated surveys (or our wider bespoke surveys)? Get in touch with Ipsos MORI….

For more information please contact:

Guto Hunkin
Associate Director, Corporate Reputation

Guto.Hunkin@Ipsos.com