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Leaders, Take Control of Your Employment Brand

Leaders, Take Control of Your Employment Brand

by Sam Acuna and Shannon Mullen O'Keefe

Story Highlights

  • Stained brands risk fewer employee referrals
  • The employee experience and brand influences customer brand
  • Make employees' needs central to brand values

Whether they realize it or not, every leader holds an indelible marker in their hands -- and every action they take marks up their employment brand.

They either leave an ugly stain on their brand for the long run, jeopardizing their ability to attract employees who will care for their customers, or they use that marker to write a strategy that differentiates their employee value proposition and helps them to attract top talent, no matter the circumstance.

Stained brands risk:

  1. Fewer employee referrals -- a prime source for talented candidates.
  2. Unfavorable comments, particularly on third-party sites such as and
  3. Higher turnover among valued team members, meaning the organization needs even more high-caliber recruits to meet customer needs.

On the other hand, leaders who use their power to invest to build a premium employment brand continue to attract top talent to their brand, even in difficult times.

These leaders resist falling into a trap of faulty assumptions about talent attraction -- which can be tempting when talent markets are tight.

Leaders who use their power to invest in their employment brand are prepared to attract top talent to their brand, even in difficult times.

A recent Gallup Panel study asked unemployed Americans what was the main reason they were not looking for work? Thirty-four percent of the respondents reported health or safety as primary inhibitors to looking for work, followed by 21% who indicated they were temporarily laid off or furloughed and expect to be rehired within the next 60 days. Just, 2% of respondents cited "government benefits" as the reason they are not searching for employment, even though that has been a common hypothesis about why many may not be looking.

So, we know that leaders who are building return-to-work strategies now, such as those who are struggling to find employees to operate their business, especially hourly ones, must demonstrate they care about employee needs like health and safety and they must manage communication during furloughs with excellence.

But those who invest to build enduring employment brand strategies will get it right not just right now, but for the long run.

What Leaders Must Do to Take Control of Employment Brand

1. Create a customer brand that amplifies your employment brand.

Customers can be some of the best potential ambassadors for your employment brand. What they experience with your organization affects whether they themselves apply or refer a future star.

For example, according to a special report from Edelman on brand trust and the coronavirus, 78% of respondents' businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected from the virus in the workplace and do not spread it into the community. Responsibility, in turn, is the most powerful driver of a company's reputation.

If safety measures aren't up to par, prospective employees and customers will notice. Customer perceptions influence not only recruiting efforts but also customer outcomes like loyalty. Things like masks, social distancing, pre-shift temperature checks, and new standard operating procedures are all safety measures that signal to potential candidates and customers that leaders care about their health and safety.

Customers can be some of the best potential ambassadors for your employment brand. What they experience with your organization affects whether they themselves apply or refer a future star.

2. Manage the employee experience with the knowledge that it matters to your employment brand.

Trust and stability are both crucial needs that leadership must meet. Now, keeping the bench warm with stars who happen to be furloughed is a winning strategy if leaders plan to call those stars back. If, on the other hand, leaders are not sure if those on furlough will return or if leaders now know that business circumstances are not favorable to hire them back, it is important to communicate this, too.

Remember, 21% of those asked seem to be simply waiting for their employers to call them back to work. If leaders are planning to call people back, they must communicate with them. Your organization's employee experience always matters to your employment brand, and now that experience extends to include those on furlough.

Transparency allows people to consider other opportunities as soon as possible and prevents people from hanging in the balance unnecessarily. How leaders communicate with their teams matters a lot -- not only to current team members but also to future team members when hiring needs return.

Remember, furloughed employees are brand ambassadors and they might even be customers themselves.

3. Embrace the power of purpose and values as an aspect of your employment brand.

A strong organizational purpose can make or break an employer brand. This is a significant area of opportunity for leaders because only four in 10 employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for.

This disconnect from an organization's purpose has direct consequences for employees' everyday work. Less than half of U.S. employees -- four in 10 -- strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important.

Leaders must clarify what they stand for. When they get this right, leaders:

Use purpose and values in internal and external communications (think change management and job ads): Values matter to all messaging, both internal and external. One company used their values of unity, excellence, vitality and joy as headlines in their company newsletter to help explain key changes during COVID-19.

When leaders do this effectively, employees make sense of change quickly -- as that change is rooted in familiar values. Leaders can also leverage purpose and values in external communications such as job ads. Gallup helps clients to craft job ads to be used as strategic tools to help attract high-caliber candidates.

Enable manager decision-making that is rooted in values: When company values are clear, managers have a framework with which to make every decision. This affects how they lead their teams as they can check their decisions against company values. Values help make key decisions easy to make.

When leaders have to make a choice about flexibility so working parents can accommodate family schedules, and a company value is treating employees like "family," then they do all they can to accommodate flexibility. How that flexibility is implemented and communicated is what leaks to external sites and can either be a positive, brand-enhancing mechanism -- or a negative stain on the brand that is difficult to erase.

Make employee needs central to values: Now, as people express more concern than ever about health and safety and desire accommodations like flexibility, leadership teams that prioritize employee needs demonstrate that people are central to their decision-making.

When leaders do this, it makes it easy to put things like the health and safety of their people first -- which, in turn, translates to attracting top talent who want to deliver for the brand and its customers.

When employers align on purpose, it helps inform company values which can help inform how leaders manage everything.

An organization's employee value proposition (EVP) is the total value and benefits it promises to give current and prospective employees in exchange for performance. A clear and compelling EVP tells potential hires why an organization is preferable to the rest.

As leaders consider hiring needs or as they develop their return-to-work strategy, they must consider what stories depict how their employees were able to thrive in spite of unprecedented challenges.

Then, they must embed those stories everywhere -- tattoo them far and wide (including on digital channels to reach remote workers) to showcase brilliant work.

Employees are watching now more than ever to make sure leadership teams care for them.

The actions leaders take now will make indelible impressions on their current teams but also on customers of their employment brand, too -- potential future hires.

Leaders must consider every moment to be an employer brand building moment.

By doing this, they have an opportunity to build an enduring hiring strategy, one that will help them to continue to attract star hires, now when times are challenging, but also in the long run.

Take control of your employment brand today:


Sam Acuna leads the Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality sector at Gallup.

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