What does COVID-19 mean for Employer brands?

How’s your inbox these days? If it’s like mine, it’s recently become a playground for pretty much anyone I’ve ever had any online interaction with. When I say anyone, I mean B2C brands, and mainly ones that I barely remember. 

The global situation we’ve all found ourselves in has delivered a demand-side recession, predominantly in the non-digital consumer market. This has led suppliers in that space to try anything they can to find revenue opportunities. 

Also, every marketing agency in the universe tells me they can change my business and give me more leads than I can manage. I feel incredibly popular. 

This is all totally understandable and logical. Everyone’s trying to keep going, I get it. I think we all do.

The consumer and employer brand connection.

But I can’t help wondering why I’ve been a ghost to them up until now. When they’ve obviously had my email address for a number of years? 

The reality is that in “normal” consumer markets there’s no need to nurture leads particularly well because the demand is consistent.

However, now the demand has died, things have changed. This got me thinking about how this activity may affect some consumer brands and in turn employer brands? Would that also impact candidate supply in the future?

Truth be told, the gap between the two has been closing for a number of years. Platforms like Glassdoor and Quora have helped this (Want to go down a rabbit hole? Type “What’s it like to work at….” into Quora. See you in 2021 😀 )

If in doubt, ask someone.

To understand a bit more about how some brands were thinking about this from a TA perspective, I spoke to some people who might have an opinion.

Edan Haddock is the Talent Manager at Flybuys, he and the team have been aware of the consumer/employer brand link for some time now and the potential impacts on both when members are treated poorly.

“With 8.6m members, we’re very aware that our applicants may well also be members, so we’ve looked to mirror our Customer and Candidate experiences.”

Flybuys rewards members for doing the things they always do, such as grocery shopping or filling up their car with petrol. To take the consumer brand experience into the recruiting sphere, they now reward applicants just for interviewing.

“There’s an emotional commitment in job hunting, so if someones going out of their way to come and interview with us, then we’d like to reward and thank them.” 

Once he was able to describe the link between the two brand experiences, Edan had an easy task in gaining buy-in from the business. He found an ally in Rosemary Martin, Flybuys Head of Customer whose remit is member experience, retention and acquisition, and together they laid the groundwork that would see their respective targets and interests enhanced by the goodwill being developed by the other.

This synergy of interests and a collaborative approach will see them make big strides as they look to win over their next generation of members and employees. “We’ve really leveraged technology to automate the elements that make sense, whilst keeping those personal moments very human.”

Then ask someone else…..

Another business spending time to consider the links between what it says and does is Xplor. A cloud-based childcare management platform and an AirTree ventures Alumni, the team at Xplor have experienced rapid growth in their quest “to make education great”. 

The Xplor products connect centres, educators, and parents, and of course, when children are involved there’s always going to be a degree of emotion with users. This emotional connection extends to their applicant pool who are often drawn to the mission of the business. So delivering an employee experience that is honest, engaging and built on the company’s values is important to the business. It is the business. 

When Caitlin Fairchild, the Head of People Operations, started to look at the consumer and employer brand synergies she looked inwards first. 

“It’s important to us that our benefits are developed in line with our mission and are true to our values. We focus on benefits that fall into the 4 pillars of learning, flexibility, community, and giving back. For example, when creating our parental leave policy we wanted to create something that was fair and flexible for our team members going through such a change in their lives, while focusing on supporting families just like our product does. So our parental leave arrangement is a 10 weeks paid, gender-neutral policy, and that leave can be used anytime within the first 12 months of birth or adoption.”

With a relatively young workforce, this is just one benefit that is a drawcard to potential employees, not only because of the tangible benefits but also because of congruence with the broader mission. 

Will motivations for work change?

It’s impossible to fully understand the larger-scale impact of COVID on today’s workforce. However, there’s definitely the potential for some Post COVID applicants to have a different set of motivations from the ones we’re used to. 

We think they might fall into one of these groups.

  • The balancers. The extended isolation period will make some people value balancing family/personal time and work. They’ll value balance and connectedness more than financial benefits. For these people, changes like working 4 days a week and moving to the country, might be on their agenda.
  • The idealists. The very human impact of COVID may make some people may feel that they have a lack of meaning in their current role or business. So they’ll look for work with organisations that are on a mission of some kind, a lot like Xplor. They want to contribute to something meaningful, to make a dent in the world.
  • The disenfranchised. Probably the smallest but possibly the most damaging of these groups are the people who weren’t furloughed due to COVID but have colleagues who were. They may feel that those colleagues were mistreated and have some resentment to their current employer. Once the job market opens up, they’ll look at options. 
  • The economically challenged. For those who were furloughed, the lure of any paid work may see them apply for roles at a lower level than they’d previously held. There’s clearly a risk in hiring these people as they look to return to their previous level once the market normalises.
  • The delayers. These are the people who over Xmas made the decision to change jobs. They started applying in late Jan, then March came and they erred on the side of caution and stayed put. They’ll start looking again, once they feel more confident in the market and if the underlying issues causing them to look in the first place still exist.

This new set of motivations means that the connection between the consumer and employer brand could well impact their application decisions. We already know that candidates spend time researching potential employers, so will these new motivations make them more discerning? It’s hard to see how they can’t.

So, what do we do now?

So what does this all really mean and what can you do to prepare for what will most likely be a hyper-competitive market later this year?

  • If you haven’t already, spend some time now to really dig into defining an Employer brand. Get a working committee together from HR, TA, Marketing and the workforce. Find yourself an exec sponsor aswell, you’ll most likely need the clout to get this moving. Find out what working at your company means to your current people and together start working that research into something meaningful. 
  • Proactively manage your digital footprint. Glassdoor and Seek reviews along with social channel noise is always best addressed in the moment, but if you have to, make a point of following up now. That applies to both positive and negative commentary.
  • Communicate future hiring plans with your current teams when appropriate. Start working the referrals.
  • Get your leadership teams vocal about the future. Potential candidates research leaders, so encourage them to get vocal. 
  • Think about an open Slack channel where you can have future potential candidates in on it, talking to you and staying across what’s happening.
  • Leverage a platform like Livehire to build a community.
  • Make your own community with something like Mighty Networks and deliver content in a different way.
  • Think about online recruiting events now. Why not do Q&A sessions, in an open webinar forum? Talk about product roadmaps, things you’re building, social initiatives, anything that people (future candidates) may want to hear about.
  • Think about a live recruiting event, when social distancing has been relaxed. Any free food, drink and offers of face to face, work-based dialogue will attract people. I promise 😀
  • Get dead data out of your ATS, if it’s more than 5 years old it’s probably redundant. So get your outreach and data cleansing happening. 

We’re hopefully moving towards the tail-end of this horrible, horrible situation. In moments of stress, real or perceived situations get magnified, meaning that there’s potential for brands to get damaged. 

But where there’s potential for danger, there’s also potential for reward.  For those businesses that consistently look at improving on their candidate experience and how they deliver a positive workplace experience there is huge potential to capitalise post COVID. 

In the words of Dave Trott, “nothing is simply good or bad, everything exists in context, it’s either better or worse than the alternatives.” 

How does your employer brand compare to the alternatives?

Simon McSorley is the owner/founder of Crew Talent Advisory. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Crew is a Talent consulting firm for businesses built around technology. Crew provides leading practice embedded talent services along with strategic & operational insights for long term hiring success.

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