Employer branding is the external perception of what it’s like to work at your company. It has always existed in some form, but recently, it has not only become more planful, but it’s also become a lot more important. Employees always have choice, let’s remember that first. It means that if the experience of working at your company is not good, they have as much ability to leave as you do to end their employment. It will likely be a lot easier for them to find a new role than it will be for you to replace them, and their experience does not end when they leave. Employees are your most important source of distinguishing your employer brand – both positively and negatively.
A manufactured employer brand is very easy to spot – it’s high polish, very diverse, and has a lot of smiling people. This may be false representation, but where a lot of creative agencies have made their money. Fast forward now to Employer Branding 2.0. Nobody is buying the lie! Employer Branding 2.0 starts with authenticity and transparency of what it’s really like to work at your company.
To help avoid costly recruiting cycles, or a lack luster pipeline of interested candidates because people are reading or hearing that working for your company is terrible, remember that employer branding has a very long reach. Here are the six top ways to get real with your employer branding (if you care about things like retaining your top people and attracting more who can knock it out of the park!):
1. Let your employees do the talking – even if it’s not always positive
You and your creative agency, or small team focused on recruiting cannot possibly know what it is like to work in various parts of your company. You don’t know the manager experience, how the technology works, and how the policies help or hinder people when they need them most. The voice of your actual employees is important. Seriously consider how you can encourage people to speak up positively – and authentically. This will help you, and your potential candidates understand what the real day-to-day is like and the highlights and lowlights of their role. This means real voice and real employees.
2. Tell the story of why someone should not work at your company
It’s OK, and even highly respected to be honest about who fits into your culture as well as who does not. This will help you get the right talent and save both parties a lot of time in the interviewing process. If you work at an incredibly fast pace and can break and re-build process as you go, you may not be the right place for someone who need structure and repetition to thrive at work. It’s acceptable to admit that some people will likely not be successful at your organization – and it’s something a lot of companies don’t say. This story is as powerful as who you do want to invite to work at your organization.
3. Don’t try to make it picture perfect
Lose the taglines and images of happy diverse people, and silly hashtags. You’ve probably cringed a few times at those and if you have a lot of negative employee reviews that can easily be found online, this type of campaign can backfire in a big way. You do not want to become a meme! Stay away from slick and salesy glossy ads that don’t represent the people who work at your company. You don’t need it to be perfect, you need to be real.
4. Don’t waste your time on sanitized social media
Throwing money on the problem can’t fix a bad employer brand. If you have treated employees badly, you have a toxic culture, or you reward bad behavior constantly, no amount of money or campaigning will hide that. With the number of public and anonymous places for employees to post their experience, ask about salaries and offers, exchange horror stories, and dispel myths you try to put out, this fluff is often an immediate flush of funds to nowhere. In not making it picture perfect, you may need time to make changes to improve the experience, and then perception of your company. Candidates are far more willing to explore a role at a place that can admit they have work to do, and point to improvements.
5. Don’t hide your failures
There is good and there is bad in this world – and we can learn a lot from the bad. It’s important not to hide, or pretend you’ve never had an issue – especially if it’s very obvious that you have! It’s OK to have some messages that are negative – your report card may not be perfect and that’s fine. If you have a theme of things you are not doing well from current or former employees, but sure you’re clear on the path to improvement and help your team talk about what you are addressing and what you learned from different experiences – remember, we’re all a work in progress.
6. Encourage and trust your employees
The list started with giving employees a voice – we’ll end with giving them the space and trust to share that voice. Showing them you have confidence in how they show up for the company will produce the most authentic content - don’t do it if you’re not ready to give your trust. This means no retaliation for someone sharing an experience that was not ideal or revealing that the company has opportunities in certain areas. They may even say they’ve considered leaving. That’s not the point. The point is that you support authentic expression and you’re ready to do the work to address their feedback where you can – and that matters.
If you haven’t already, stop posting your sugar-coated posts gushing about how your most attractive ‘employees’ (aka stock image models) love working at your company. Take a step back and read the environment – we’re in a digital age where people can and do speak freely and want to know what they might be in for at work before they sign your offer. Any sniff of a toxic workplace, a lack of support, or that the experience is the opposite of what you’ve been promising can mean disaster for your talent attraction and retention efforts. Don’t create a poster for what your brand can be – allow your employees to be the billboard of what you actually are!