Many people view employer branding as externally focused; career sites, recruitment advertising, social media outreach and print advertising. These activities target people external to the organization who may be future employees. Yes, this is a major part of an employer brand but it’s not everything. In fact, the most important audience that employer branding touches is the current workforce of an organization. Collectively, the employee population defines and represents an employer brand. How they feel, what they believe and what they say are what matters. In effect they are your most impactful brand ambassadors, for good or for worse.
In our global marketplace we experience peaks and valleys. We love being on a peak; opportunities are in abundance, organizations are performing well and the overall feeling in people is one of optimism, excitement and positivity. On the other hand when we’re stuck in a valley, things are not great. The market may be stagnant, organizations are struggling and people may be under increased pressure and stress. During these times organizations typically undertake belt-tightening activities to “ride things out”, such as restructuring, spending cuts, downsizing and freeze on hiring. These difficult decisions are often unpopular, but are a part of how businesses operate.
Let’s dive deeper into the connection between the strength of an employer brand and the ability of an organization to get through difficult times. For the most part leaders make difficult decisions due to financial reasons. They simply need to stay afloat and make it through the storm until it subsides. On the surface this makes perfect sense. After these decisions are made there is still a business to run, customers to deal with and products to deliver. Who continues to do all of this? Yes, your employees. We all know that a positive correlation exists between the level of employee engagement and your employer brand. What if your employer brand is not particularly strong to begin with? What would be the impact on the organization after it goes through a difficult period in time? On the flip side, the same decisions are made in an organization with a strong employer brand. Would you see a noticeable difference after the air clears and decisions have been made and communicated? Without a doubt you would see a huge difference.
A significant factor influencing employee engagement is the level of trust employees have in leadership. It’s a feeling they have based on their experience working each day. Leaders undertake many activities that influence employee engagement and employer brand such as transparent communication, strong culture of performance, across-the-board fairness in decision-making, opportunities to grow and develop, and the list goes on. So, those organizations that have a strong culture of trust are well positioned to successfully make it through difficult times. Organizations that don’t will really struggle.
It’s an interesting connection between trust, employee engagement, employer brand and business success. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a peak or in a valley, organizations need to be constantly monitoring the level of trust employees have in their leadership. The effect is domino-like and should never stop. Trust is that x-factor when difficult decisions are made. We know employees don’t like tough business decisions because they often feel the impact. However, if they trust leadership that the decisions they’re making are for the right reasons they will accept them. However, if trust is low it doesn’t matter what decisions are made, employees will have a really difficult time accepting them. This simple yet highly critical perspective is what will make or break an organization during difficult times. For example, a hiring freeze will result in heavier workloads, increased stress and reduced spending across the board. Workforces with highly engaged employees will soldier on, and exert that discretionary effort to help continue driving the business forward, unlike organizations with low engagement.
Employees are the key catalyst to successful organizations. Not strategy, not glitzy marketing and advertising campaigns, or anything else. You need your people more than ever when times are tough, which is why employer branding is so critical. Just think back to 2008 when the global recession hit and ask yourself which companies failed and which ones flourished. The ones that flourished are the ones that have strong employer brands.