during turbulent times
As any employer will attest, the last couple of years have been a period of uncertainty as individual companies ride the rollercoaster of global recession and recovery.
During turbulent economic times, a common and understandable reaction in the workplace is to institute cost-saving measures such as a hiring or pay freeze, reducing benefits or even, in the worst-case scenarios, making redundancies. But is this the best strategy for ensuring your business comes out of the downtown robust and ready for the future?
Evidence from previous downturns suggests that, where possible, companies should seek alternatives to cutting jobs and treat economic slowdowns as an opportunity to build loyalty among their valued employees. Businesses that do not look after their staff in the current climate risk a flight of talent as soon as market conditions improve.
On top of this, a recent Manpower poll of 39,000 employers in 33 countries reported that 30 per cent had trouble filling positions, despite the recession. This mismatch in supply and demand, particularly for workers with specialised skills, is widely predicted to increase as the economy recovers.
The message is clear: employers need to be ready for the inevitable upswing in business.
So how can you prepare your company for recovery and a renewed competitiveness in the job marketplace?
How can you differentiate your business from the competition?
How can you attract prospective candidates and ensure your existing employees, particularly your star players, are engaged and fulfilled? The answer lies in employment branding.
Employment branding is defined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development as a set of attributes and qualities – often intangible – that makes an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture.
Employment branding applies not only to the initial recruitment process, assisting with the identification and hiring of the right people, but also to the long-term retention of employees – both attributes that have a significant financial impact on a business. In other words, the right kind of branding will attract the right kind of people.
The employment brand can be utilised and promoted through three distinct phases of the recruitment process:
The employment brand is often the first impression an organisation makes on a prospective employee. A company’s reputation as a potential employer is usually based on a few key considerations: what job security is offered, what value is placed on work-life balance, what opportunities there are for training and promotion and what the company culture is like. How your company positions itself in these terms becomes an essential part of your employment brand.
Every interaction between a company and a prospective employee will have an impact on the final outcome of the recruitment process. Elements that can affect the employment brand at this stage include content, layout and placement of the job advertisement, how the business environment and culture are communicated, the user-friendliness of the company website and response time to applicants. Your behaviour, even at this early stage, is reflective of the company’s values and philosophy.
Promises made in the recruitment process must be followed through in the daily operations for the employment brand to have any integrity. Employees can act as brand ambassadors for a company, and as word of mouth is far more powerful than printed advertisements, their good opinion is crucial. The employee experience must therefore be positive throughout – and that includes keeping your talent moving.
This does not have to mean an annual promotion but can be through other avenues such as providing additional experience or enhanced fringe benefits. To maintain a company’s culture and brand with existing employees, the following should be taken into account: communication, professional development and training, employee involvement, management style, customer service, innovation and benefits and rewards.
Implementing and communicating your employment brand does not need to involve extra resources at a time when finances are tight. Utilising existing programmes and involving a cross-section of departments, from HR, marketing and senior management, can produce dynamic results while ensuring the buy-in of some key figures in the organisation.
How can you measure your progress?
Employee surveys are a good way to evaluate the degree of association employees have with the brand, from a base level of awareness to promoting or even championing its principles, while brand values can also be incorporated into performance management systems. It is also important to assess the alignment between internal and external perceptions of the brand.
The benefits of effective employment branding can be felt at many levels of the business, from a more efficient recruitment process to retention of the most talented employees. In fact, at Stepping Stones, we believe so strongly in the power of employment branding, that we have recently been through a rebranding exercise ourselves.
To some, 2009 may have seemed like a strange time to embark on such a process, but we believe we are now in an even stronger position to meet our clients’ needs as business picks up around the world.
Simon Barwick, Creative Director at BB&P, whose design team was responsible for creating both the original and the refreshed brand for Stepping Stones, believes this bold step gives our recruitment agency a competitive edge.
“The fact that they decided to rebrand, relocate and revitalise their business during a recession is commendable,” he said.
“Increasingly, BB&P’s clients see their brand as an employer as a critical component of their overall business strategy. This is especially true of clients in the legal and accounting industries, since only with a clearly differentiated positioning as an employer can they compete for ever-more scarce talent. Firms without an onshore presence have a particularly pressing need for a strong employer brand, but we’re seeing that even global brands have to compete with their own internal networks for qualified talent.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers is one financial organisation that has been quick to recognise the value of employment branding.
“We work hard to ensure PricewaterhouseCoopers provides a welcoming environment, where our employees can grow professionally and personally,” says Jaslyne Bridges, Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Cayman.
“It is important to us that message reaches not just prospective applicants but the general public as well.”
Another notable example of a successful employment branding strategy is The Ritz-Carlton reference to their employees as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, a phrase that instantly conveys the value they place on their individual members of staff. From the adverts placed in local papers, to induction handbooks and employee reward schemes, the message is constantly reinforced.
But it is not just the private sector that needs to be prepared for increased competition in the global marketplace – countries are also competing to attract talent. As employment branding clearly provides significant advantages for individual companies, can the same principles be applied on a national level?
For many years, the Cayman Islands has enjoyed the position of being the number one offshore jurisdiction, the destination of choice for businesses seeking a tax neutral locale and for young professionals seeking a career whose fringe benefits included beaches and year-round sunshine. However, in recent years, things have changed and Cayman is no longer the frontrunner.
Just this month, our clients in the financial industry had job offers rejected by candidates who instead chose to pursue opportunities elsewhere, in Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Jersey. This predicament is far from unusual as the names of other offshore jurisdictions increasingly crop up.
So why this shift in perception? We believe there are a number of factors at play: prospective candidates in the US and Europe are aware of the current uncertainties facing Cayman, and are nervous about what impact the proposed additional legislation could have on the country. The rollover policy and the increase in crime do not help our cause either. The Cayman Islands brand has taken some knocks and needs rebuilding.
However, the elements that have always made Cayman a great place to do business – no payroll tax, a sophisticated infrastructure, a stable government – are all still in place and should still be strong draws for professionals considering a career in Cayman. We just need to get the message out there. With effective employment branding, Cayman could once again be number one.
Benefits of employment branding:
- A higher quality candidate pool
- More candidates who match the role requirements, meet expectations of the hiring manage and relate to the organisation’s culture and values
- Decreased application-to-hire ratio and lower rate of offer rejection
- Decreased time-to-fill and cost-per-hire ratios
- Lower turnover
- Greater number of employee referrals
- Employees more likely to be brand ambassadors
- Higher levels of employee engagement