No Image Available

Annie Hayes

Sift

Editor

Read more about Annie Hayes

Employer branding: Biting through the candy floss

pp_default1

candy_floss
The credit crunch has put many employer brands to the test with some notable businesses falling at the first hurdle. Annie Hayes fights through the sugar-coated offerings to find out what it means to have a brand with teeth.


What is an employer brand?

Many household names owe their success to the strength of their employer brand; the Civil Service fast stream is perhaps the earliest example with Orange and Accenture holding the flags as today’s champions. Fast food outlet McDonald’s is another fine example.

David Fairhurst, senior vice president, chief people officer, McDonald’s UK and Northern Europe, has witnessed a complete turnaround from the days when working at McDonald’s was seen as a dead-end, low-paid job with little career prospects, to an employer brand that offers what they class as ‘high-quality jobs and career opportunities’. Such has been the change, that they have been recognised by both the Great Place to Work Institute and Investors in People.

Of course, there are other examples that demonstrate what can go wrong if you fail to invest in your employer brand. Simon Barrow, chairman of employer brand experts PIB, points to Lehman Brothers: “Financial service companies that based their employer brand on short-termism are beginning to regret that decision.”

“Employer branding is not just about recruitment. It’s an opportunity to gather intelligence to help employers better understand what makes people stay with their organisation, and be prepared to ‘go the extra mile’.”

Rebecca Clake, CIPD

According to Barrow, the employer brand is all about the experience: “Elements of the entire working experience which pull together the physical, environmental, social and rewards associated with the employee experience and the employing company.”

It still has validity, says Barrow, who adds that one of the traps some practitioners fall into is using the concept as an adjunct of the recruitment process.

Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), agrees: “Employer branding is not just about recruitment. It’s an opportunity to gather intelligence to help employers better understand what makes people stay with their organisation, and be prepared to ‘go the extra mile’.”

Paul Walker, head of employer brands at Barkers, says whilst this is true it’s also important to remember that employer branding is as much about deterring the people you don’t want as it is about recruiting them. For Walker, creating a brand is about making an organisation distinctive and attractive so that people who will feel an affinity with it and deliver their best performance within it. Because of this, he says, it’s almost impossible to get anywhere if you ‘fake’ a brand. “You might persuade them to join but their experience will have no alignment with what they’ve been promised and it will enhance the cynicism within the current workforce.”

The employer brand journey

Faking a brand is one thing, but turning around an image is another and key lessons can be learnt from those that have been successful at reinventing themselves. Fairhurst says that it’s a journey McDonald’s are still working on, and admits that there is a gap in the UK between the external perception and internal reality of working at the food chain.

“Over the past few years, we’ve worked extremely hard to close this gap and have had a good deal of success, but we know this isn’t something that happens overnight. You have to be honest, open and transparent and make clear the values you stand for in order to change people’s misconceptions in the longer term.”

“You have to be honest, open and transparent and make clear the values you stand for in order to change people’s misconceptions in the longer term.”

David Fairhurst, McDonald’s UK and Northern Europe

Back in 2001, the term ‘McJob’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector”.

Fairhurst joined McDonald’s in late 2005, and remarks that he was immediately struck by how inaccurate the definition of ‘McJob’ was compared to the reality of work at McDonald’s. They decided the time was right to launch a concerted campaign to narrow the perception gap and overturn the many common misconceptions about so-called ‘McJobs’.

“With such a weight of prejudice to overcome, our approach was to deploy a series of counter-intuitive and fact-based proof points as evidence that would encourage people to reconsider their opinions. For example, in January 2006, we launched the innovative, UK-first family contract, which allows family members working in the same McDonald’s restaurant to swap shifts without prior managerial permission. Then, in April, we unveiled a bold and disruptive advertising campaign, which examined the benefits of working at McDonald’s and rounded off with the phrase ‘Not bad for a McJob’,” says Fairhurst.

In June, McDonald’s launched the Brighter Futures independent research study by Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at University College London. The research proved that employment at McDonald’s has a positive transformative effect on young people compared to many other jobs, boosting their confidence, communication skills and career prospects. This was followed, in September, by the launch of Our Lounge, McDonald’s employee lifestyle and learning website that enables staff to achieve nationally recognised GCSE-equivalent Maths and English qualifications.

And the journey didn’t stop there. Building on their 2006 success, in 2007 McDonald’s shifted to a campaigning approach. They created a public petition to urge the UK’s dictionary houses to reconsider the definition of ‘McJob’. It gained over 100,000 signatures from the public and its employees, and was backed by a coalition of high-profile figures as well as 35 MPs, who co-signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion in protest of prejudice against the service sector.

In August of this year, McDonald’s continued its work to redefine ‘McJob’ by introducing a confident recruitment advertising campaign designed to celebrate rather than defend the term.

Fairhurst puts it all down to drawing on a strong body of evidence, and being honest and transparent about the job and career opportunities that are on offer. So what can HR do to champion the ‘reality’ of life at work?

The HR ambassadors

Barrow says HR teams need to be brave: “The important thing is to establish the truth about what employment is all about in that particular organisation and have a plan for fixing it.”

Whilst HR may not be able to increase its management visibility or fire colleagues, Barrow says it needs to be close enough to the boss to push things forward – power without influence.

“The important thing is to establish the truth about what employment is all about in that particular organisation and have a plan for fixing it.”

Simon Barrow, PIB

Barrow continues and advises HR to conduct its own analysis and create its own view of culture, threats and current employment experience and then communicate that view at a workshop or similar to the senior executive, however unpopular it might be. It’s a strategy which Barrow says requires “courage, focus and energy”.

Walker says that a further important role for HR is to measure the success of the employer brand in a way that can really add value. For Fairhurst, that success is down to ensuring that what you’ve promised is what is delivered: “That’s where HR comes in. At McDonald’s, our people team are committed to driving HR innovations that deliver an engaging, structured and fun environment for all of our 72,000 employees.”

Fairhurst believes HR’s role in offering learning and development opportunities and quick career progression is crucial to the employer brand. “At the end of the day, if your employer brand is not authentic to the organisation’s values, it’s worth very little. Your customers won’t buy into it, the public won’t buy into it, and crucially your employees won’t buy into it.”

The success of an employer brand can be measured by its impact on absence, recruitment and retention. Fairhurst says: “Our staff turnover is now at an all-time low, and hourly-paid crew turnover has fallen by over 20% in the past two years. Absenteeism is less than 1% and we have seen a 33% reduction in the number of new starters leaving within 90 days of starting. Similarly, average tenure for restaurant mangers has reached an all time high and is now approaching 11 years. In addition to improved retention and absenteeism rates, employee satisfaction is also on the rise.”

It’s impressive, and according to their most recently conducted employee survey, as many as three-quarters of McDonald’s employees say they are proud to work there.

In a market where survival is everything it has never been more important to carry your best people with you and weather the storm. Having a strong employer brand can be the difference between success and failure, and it’s never too late to turn things around – as the McDonald’s story shows. At the same time there’s no room for faking it, and those that do get found out quickly.


No Image Available
Annie Hayes

Editor

Read more from Annie Hayes
Newsletter

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.