No Image Available

Tim Holden

Read more about Tim Holden

Could the recession be tarnishing your employer brand?


How can organisations ensure they maintain their employer brand in a recession? Tim Holden explains how to keep brand values visible throughout any change process, and how HR can ensure the brand is protected during a redundancy process. 

What is an employer brand?
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), employer branding describes how an organisation markets what it has to offer to potential and existing employees. Marketers have developed techniques to help attract customers, communicate with them effectively and maintain their loyalty to a consumer brand. Employer branding involves applying a similar approach to people management.
Empty brands
For many organisations, the economic downturn has squeezed budgets for advertising, entering awards and other public relations initiatives. However, we were told recently that although some marketing agencies are busy right now, others are offering cut-price deals to raise brand awareness intended to generate additional revenue when it is sorely needed.
Having a great employer brand is all well and good, but what if there is nothing behind it – if in reality, it is empty? "Come and join us because we are a fantastic employer," says the official communications material… but there will be no bonus paid this year, a pay freeze is in place and the budget for learning and development has been slashed. A recent project we completed for job seekers and the long-term unemployed covered the concept of all that glitters is not gold, whilst some websites/blogs now tell the truth ‘warts and all’.
"Every employee made redundant is a potential ambassador for the employer brand"
Public sector
We recently met with a potential new client in the public sector. They are not seen as a particularly ‘sexy’ place to work, struggling to attract Generation Y applicants and experiencing excessive absenteeism, often as a result of stress.
However, they see the recession as a great opportunity to re-invigorate their employer brand and hopefully we will work with them shortly to adopt a proactive approach targeting private sector employees currently disenchanted or out of work. With a final salary pension, competitive basic salaries, a host of family-friendly policies and strict limits on working hours, they intend to hire applicants who may not have expressed an interest twelve months earlier but who now seek a safe haven and ‘a job for life’ in these turbulent times. 
Every employee made redundant is a potential ambassador for the employer brand; hence careful consideration needs to be given to how redundancies are handled. If employees leave with a sour taste in their mouth they may contaminate the organisation’s reputation at every possible opportunity, so that once the economic upturn arrives they won’t apply (wasting their knowledge) nor will friends, family and other contacts.
In addition, we are finding that the ‘survivor syndrome’ of the workers left behind to pick up the pieces is often overlooked. Remaining workers now have to work harder for less and may fear that the sword of Damocles is hanging over them for the next round of job losses. These are frequently high-performing individuals needed for succession planning in the future; who even in a difficult marketplace are probably better than some of the people employed by competitors and could easily jump ship.
In this era of pay cuts and a stressful working environment, it is hard to maintain levels of employee engagement. The fun may have temporarily evaporated from the workplace, coughs and colds result in days off sick and motivation is at a low ebb. This can result in customers not being treated well and going elsewhere, and to tackle this it important to inject some fun back into the workplace so that customer service does not suffer. We recently concluded a training programme around leadership where happiness in the office had noticeably fallen and there were concerns about the morale of key talent. We drew on a number of best practice examples to show that a range of low-cost initiatives around sustainability and thinking creatively have produced real dividends. 
"The ‘survivor syndrome’ of the workers left behind to pick up the pieces is often overlooked"
Sunday Times Best Companies
Along with a myriad of other sources of data we regularly use this publication to improve the employer brand of an organisation. Many of our clients operate in sectors where there are still real skills shortages, even within a contracted workforce and this publicity can provide kudos. Over the last month two new potential clients were quite negative about the research. One had entered for the first time and had been very successful, but felt disappointed by the excessive commercialisation of the concept. The other had regularly featured in the 100 Best Companies, but for reasons they couldn’t identify this time they missed out and were therefore very disenchanted with the process.
How to maintain/create a positive employer brand?
We recommend the following:
  • Communication of a consistent message to provide reassurance and recognition: Face-to-face, group-based, top-down, bottom-up, surveys, interviews, social networking, blogs, notice boards… the list is endless.
  • Link to figures: Measure the impact of employer brand on cost per hire, attrition, internal promotions/external appointments etc.
  • Recruit for attitude, induct for culture: As technology has reduced the amount of skill and experience needed for many jobs, look instead at the attitude of new hires rather than what they have done in the past.
  • Be flexible: Embrace the new flexible working legislation, recognising that home working, mobile working, different working hours, childcare/eldercare responsibilities all impact on the employer brand as employers for today and tomorrow need to achieve both the personal and professional goals of employees.
  • Reinforce the brand at every possible opportunity: During work experience, appraisals, inductions, exit interviews. Promote effective management behaviours and reward performance consistent with the employer brand such as loyalty incentives for long service, good sickness records or to encourage staff back from maternity leave. 
To conclude
Establishing the right employer brand is essential if you are to retain and attract the right people to work for you. Considerable cost and time savings are available for organisations that use their brand to become or remain an employer of choice, rather than an employer of last resort.
Tim Holden is managing director of Fluid Consulting Limited

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.