Employers need to redefine their EVP and employer brand to respond to the transforming world of work.
By Marta Chmielowicz
As COVID-19 restrictions lift and the U.S. economy begins to recover, employees are seeking out new job opportunities in droves. In fact, Achievers’ 2021 Engagement and Retention Report shows that 52% of employees plan to look for a new job—up from 35% in 2020. To remain competitive and attract top talent in this environment, organizations need to revamp their employee value proposition (EVP) and brand strategy to meet the needs of today’s evolved workforce.
“Job seekers have felt somewhat confined over the last 12 months. Now, as we come into a degree of greater normality, there’s an uptick in escapism of people saying they want something fresh and different—a new experience. There’s a tsunami of jobs out there now and the choice for job seekers is immense, and I think employer brands have not necessarily been reviewed to reflect their new expectations and priorities,” says Andrew Wilkinson, group managing director for EMEA and APAC at PeopleScout.
In addition to the standard company mission, values, and organizational goals, Jill Vitali, deputy vice president and general manager of operations at ADP RPO, says that candidates are increasingly interested in safety, security, flexibility, and social responsibility from a potential employer. A feeling of belonging has also emerged as a crucial element of the employee experience, with Qualtrics’ 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report showing that 91% of employees who feel they belong are engaged, compared to 20% of those who do not.
“The seismic jolt of the pandemic led many employees across all experience levels to take stock in how and why they find fulfillment in work, and many more recognized that they prioritize company values, culture, and a feeling of belonging,” says Katherine Richardson, CHRO at PURE Insurance. “More and more realized they were looking for a place that understands and accommodates their needs, partners with them to find balance, and provides opportunities for professional and personal growth.”
To succeed in this environment, companies will need to address three key priorities in their employer branding.
1. COVID-19 response. Today’s job seekers are looking at how organizations responded to the COVID crisis and supported their employees through the turbulence of the past year. Jobvite’s 2021 Job Seeker Nation Report indicates that 58% would decline a job opportunity with a company that did not have established COVID-19 protocols.
“The pandemic has acted as a true test of an organization’s values,” says Vitali. “Job seekers are benchmarking employers on how they upheld those values, particularly around how they supported their employees throughout COVID-19, and will continue to do so moving forward.”
With so many channels to learn the truth about companies’ COVID response, including word of mouth, peer review sites, and social media platforms, honesty is critical when navigating these conversations.
“If you’re dishonest about the way that you dealt with COVID, you could be doing real damage to your employer brand,” says Wilkinson. “We’ve all made mistakes—every company has probably done some things they regret. Sometimes, a bit of humility admitting the things that didn’t go as well as they could have goes a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of potential job seekers.”
2. Flex work opportunities. Another huge expectation of today’s candidates is flexibility. While employees may range in their preference for remote or office-based work, job seekers are interested in how well organizations position themselves to meet the needs of their people with regards to flexible work arrangements.
“There are so many lessons that have come from the pandemic, but the ones I come back to most often are the importance of meeting people where they are and the power of flexibility,” explains Richardson. “Policies that attempt to be one-size-fits-all actually end up fitting few well; flexibility is the most powerful tool we have to keep our employee community connected and strong during this marathon.”
3. Social responsibility. While the pandemic has certainly influenced employer branding, commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and diversity have also become key differentiators—especially for younger generations.
“Diversity is a critical component after the past year’s events, which heightened awareness and ignited movements to fight racial injustice, increase pay equity, and build a more inclusive world,” explains Vitali. “Younger generations strongly believe that employers have a responsibility in these movements to not only embody these beliefs through their own organizational values, but to extend their reach beyond the confines of their day-to-day businesses.”
And the trends are here to stay; millennials now constitute 35% of the total labor force, and Generation Z are quickly entering the job market behind them. Gen Z in particular is the most diverse generation the U.S. has ever seen, indicating a shift in demographics that will continue to raise the importance of CSR and D&I in the employer brand.
Realigning Employer Brand
It is undisputable that the events of 2020 have changed American society, with businesses forced to evolve their goals, operations, and strategy to become digital and people-first organizations. Companies will need to reevaluate their employer brand, communicating the ways that the business has pivoted and adjusting their EVP to attract the talent they need for the future. These five best practices can set organizations on the road to success.
Step 1: Examine how the business has changed. The first step to adjusting the EVP in the new normal is understanding how the culture and goals of the business have evolved from pre-COVID times.
“Is the EVP that you’re running with today reflective of what the company is now? The story you tell needs to be fresh and current for where the business is for the future, and the future now may be quite different to what it was 12 months ago,” says Wilkinson. “We need to review our EVPs; refresh the story; refresh the focus on employee experience, employee engagement, and flex working; and make sure the EVP is attracting the talent that’s going to drive the company’s performance better in the future rather than for the company that went into COVID.”
Wilkinson says that organizations need to be future-focused, willing to look in the mirror and investigate whether their current brand is still a true and authentic reflection of the organization. He recommends that HR leaders start by speaking with the CEO to understand how the vision of the business has changed. For example, a simple conversation may reveal that certain parts of the business have grown in response to the digital transformation of the last year, while other parts, like travel or events-based functions, have become less critical following COVID’s restrictions. Many companies will also need to review their job descriptions, evaluating how the demands of each role have changed and ensuring that job descriptions reflect the new business reality.
“For us, it starts with a clear understanding of why we exist,” says Richardson. PURE Insurance, a policyholder-owned property and casualty insurer designed for high-net-worth individuals and their families, is dedicated to making its members smarter, safer, and more resilient so they can pursue their passions with greater confidence.
“A common purpose gives structure, context, alignment, and meaning to the work we individually do. PURE has been a purpose-driven, principles-led organization fiercely protective of our culture since our beginnings 15 years ago. We invest time and energy to keep everyone informed, aligned, and connected.”
Step 2: Talk to employees. Once HR leaders understand how their mission, goals, and business operations have evolved over the past 12 months, they should speak with employees to get a sense of how the culture has changed.
“By first speaking with the CEO to understand the future expectations of where the business is going to be and then going back into the workforce and assessing how the employees feel about the organization, you can start to articulate how the brand needs to change,” Wilkinson explains.
This internal analysis also provides employers with an opportunity to refresh the brand and reconnect with their existing workforce, improving engagement and retention.
Step 3: Take a stance. While employers have traditionally shied away from taking a clear stance on social and political issues, younger generations today expect employers to be socially conscious and committed to environmental and social justice. Job seekers will look for evidence that organizations are socially responsible, so employers need to clearly communicate their commitments in their branding efforts.
“Many companies are at an impasse presently and have yet to declare publicly the ways in which they will contribute to the world outside of their own business interests,” says Vitali. “At the point in which an organization decides to stand up publicly on social issues, it will also be important to deploy an employer brand strategy in tandem as younger generations are most attracted and engaged with this social transparency.”
Step 4: Clearly articulate the brand. Brand narratives need to be clear, visible, and repeated to stick—and that means employers need to make sure that the story is captured strongly and communicated consistently throughout the organization.
“Some organizations allow individuals in parts of the business to tell their own story differently, but that weakens the employer brand because you need a consistent message, consistent language, and repetition. Like anything, the more you say it, the more people hear it. You do need to correct people if they start using different phrases or different language in their communication with job seekers,” says Wilkinson.
For best results, Vitali recommends that employers embrace full transparency around their employee experience, including total rewards, employee well-being, and organizational initiatives. These can be communicated through the hiring process in job descriptions, the careers site, interviews, and employee spotlights.
“It’s important that we are open and clear about our expectations for performance and what it means to be a contributor to our culture,” says Richardson. “We have a comprehensive interview process with a cross section of individuals, including a ‘cultural contribution’ interview conducted by a team member specially trained to assess whether a candidate values intellectual curiosity, empathy, and teamwork as we do.”
Step 5: Be authentic and transparent. Candidates can easily recognize when employer brands are inauthentic, so employers need to ensure that they create genuine content that reflects the true employee experience.
“It’s absolutely critical for organizations to walk the talk,” says Wilkinson. “You can’t state your employer brand, have a narrative, set the expectations, and then behave and do things differently. The visible assets and actions of the company must reinforce the branding messages and the narrative that you’ve developed.”
For example, organizations that claim a commitment to diversity and inclusion will not get very far if their entire leadership team doesn’t reflect that. It’s not enough to put out a diversity statement; today’s job seekers are searching for truth rather than a promise, and they look for clues in the entirety of their candidate journey.
“We recognize that in order for someone to feel safe and supported to do their best work, they should look around the organization and see people that look like them,” says Richardson. “Our leadership team should serve as a highly visible expression of our commitment and can serve as an inspiration for the best and brightest of all backgrounds as they see daily testaments to achievement and impact in their own image in action. Embracing DE&I is not a branding strategy; bringing a diverse set of perspectives to the table and actively including those voices improves our decision-making.”
Richardson emphasizes that organizations should be willing to speak honestly about their progress and recognize when there is a gap between their ambitions and their reality. For example, PURE has been on a journey to embrace more women in senior leadership roles, including the creation of a “Women’s Leadership Council”; programs to identify and develop high potential women; and a refresh of the benefits package to include parental leave, childcare, and a phased return after maternity leave.
“We now have three times more women in senior leadership roles than we did five years ago,” Richardson explains. “Work like this isn’t new to us, but sharing it more openly with prospective and current employees and members is. We are a ‘work in progress’ committed to change, and that honesty is appealing to today’s job seekers.”
Step 6: Embrace employee advocacy. Today’s workers value honesty and transparency, and there is no better resource to communicate the true reality of company culture than current employees. In fact, LinkedIn research shows that job candidates trust employees three times more than the company itself to provide credible insight into the employee experience.
“The voice of the employee in talking about the employee experience is more important now than perhaps it’s ever been,” says Wilkinson. “They’re a very strong voice that’s often underutilized in expressing their views, and whether or not organizations start to encourage employees to write reviews on Indeed and Glassdoor or post and comment on LinkedIn, encouraging and supporting advocacy is a powerful piece of bringing your brand to life and sharing it with the relevant job seekers.”
To build this advocacy, Vitali says that HR leaders should provide employees with the tools, training, and ease of access to share social content. “The key is to highlight the content which speaks authentically to your inclusive culture, specific DE&I outcomes, social actions of the organization, and other facets which reflect your priorities,” she adds.
For example, showcasing the voices of individuals in business resource groups can demonstrate how diverse candidates will experience belonging and leadership support in the organization. Likewise, highlighting the efforts and goals of diversity taskforces and embracing moments when the organization is celebrating its diverse workforce, such as International Women’s Day, Black History Month, and Pride Month, creates opportunities for genuine branding.
“These methods empower employees to spark conversations, celebrate their unique differences, and build relationships that enhance your workplace environment,” says Vitali. “They also offer opportunities to capture these moments and share them with both your external and internal audiences.”