By communicating and acting on company values during times of crisis and uncertainty, organisations will bolster their reputation among employees and candidates.
By Michael Switow
At a time when hiring and recruitment have slowed for many companies, Asia-Pacific businesses are redeploying staff and resources to the community.
Singapore Airlines, airport services provider SATS Ltd., and taxi firm ComfortDelGro Corp. are among the companies that are reassigning underused staff to help Singapore overcome the new realities of the pandemic. Flight crews assist nurses in hospitals and promote safe distancing in train stations, whilst taxi and Grab drivers have supplemented the city’s ambulance fleet by transporting people who suspect they could have COVID-19 to the hospital.
Initiatives like these provide continued employment to staff during a time of uncertainty when business is down, and offer a sense of meaning for those involved. On top of the initial benefits, industry experts say companies are likely to reap long-term rewards by increasing employee loyalty and positioning themselves as good corporate citizens. Few good deeds go unreported; companies showcase their initiatives in media releases, newsletters, and social media.
“It’s an opportunity for companies,” says Jacqueline Gwee, director of the Singapore-based aAdvantage Consulting Group. “Even if they’re not hiring immediately, activities like these will definitely build brand value for the employer. Then, when the time is right, when they do need to recruit, this will go a long way.”
“During a time of crisis, how a business treats its customers, suppliers, staff, and the broader community has significant potential to influence how your staff and future talent prospects feel about you as an employer, and whether you are a business they will feel proud to work for,” adds Kate Beattie, the group head of marketing for the Harrier Group. “If an organisation can successfully integrate talent strategies with authentic CSR efforts, just as Singapore Airlines has done, then they are likely to have greater impact.”
Recent corporate community initiatives go beyond volunteer service and redeploying workers. DBS Bank is pledging additional funding to assist social enterprises; donating test kits and providing meals to daily wage workers in Indonesia; and building an app to reduce food waste and simplify the food donation process in Singapore.
“The collaboration between Bank DBS Indonesia and various parties is expected to encourage other parties to step forward to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Paulus Sutisna, the president director of PT Bank DBS Indonesia.
“Social enterprises are working harder than ever during this period to protect jobs and do their part for society. As a bank that has contributed to the development of Singapore, it is necessary for us to stand by these organisations,” adds Paulus’ colleague Joyce Tee, who is the group head of DBS’ SME Banking division.
PropNex Realty is allocating nearly S$30 million (US$21 million) to assist self-employed property agents whose incomes have plummeted at a time when they cannot physically show flats to prospective clients. Some 8,500 realtors are expected to benefit. The company is donating an additional $750,000 to community initiatives that assist “frontline heroes,” families affected by COVID-19 and underprivileged children.
“We are concerned for our salespersons’ cash flow situations,” remarks PropNex Realty CEO Ismail Gafoor. “Whilst there are a lot of uncertainties, it is our utmost priority to assure our salesforce that the PropNex Resilience Support Plan is aimed at easing their financial commitments during this unprecedented period.”
The property agency is also encouraging its sales team to take an online seminar to improve their skills. It’s a curated a 28-day programme. “We are confident that this is the best time for our sales force to recharge, relearn, reconnect with their clients, and spend quality time with their loved ones in preparation to serve our clients when the restrictions are lifted,” says Ismail.
Firms like DBS Bank and PropNex are likely to build up a reservoir of goodwill from employees, both current and future. Research indicates that the public will not forget how companies reacted to COVID-19. In a recent survey by The Harris Poll and Just Capital, nearly 85 per cent of respondents say they will remember which businesses treated their employees right during the crisis, whilst three-quarters say they will recall corporate missteps “long after (the crisis) is over.”
The trend is not limited to southeast Asia. Chinese companies are emerging as global donors. Major brands like TikTok, Tencent, Lenovo, and Huawei have donated ventilators, masks, cash, and other supplies to hospitals in the United States, Europe, and Africa. Online retailer JD.com has done the same, in addition to providing free online counseling and medical services.
Communicating Employer Brand
“Companies have had to scrap their old employer branding plans and focus on meeting the moment at hand,” writes LinkedIn Insights Analyst Stephen Connaughton. “The tone has also changed, with themes of support, community, and care on the rise.”
“Employers are experiencing a paradox right now,” adds Alpar Major, co-founder and vice president of enterprise sales for SmartDreamers, a recruitment marketing software firm. “More people are engaging with social media than before, yet recruitment ads and digital content are performing at sub-optimal rates compared with those seen before the COVID-19 crisis.”
Corporate posts about community initiatives are receiving significantly more engagement in social media, though. In Asia-Pacific, posts about COVID-19—particularly those related to how companies are helping—receive 28 per cent more engagement than the average post on LinkedIn. Social media posts about working from home are one of the only areas performing markedly better.
Empathetic employer branding is resonating, notes Connaughton, as well as messages that “put people first,” like honouring essential workers, caring for employees, or supporting communities.
Social media, of course, isn’t the only way that employer branding messages are spread. “There are a lot of little things that companies do at the very operational level, like giving care packs to their staff, and I think that’s where the word of mouth plays a strong part,” notes Gwee.
“If the global COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s how many options we have for remaining connected with the people (and brands) in our lives,” adds Major. And as Asia-Pacific’s companies look ahead to better days, the success of tomorrow’s recruitment will be defined today.