Year of employee

Our clients have delivered many bits of wisdom as we’ve navigated the pandemic era together. One, from consulting firm West Monroe, stands out in particular: 2020 was the year of the customer, while 2021 is the year of the employee. With so much focus on customer-facing pandemic pivots, employees went above and beyond, genuinely rallying to meet customers where they were. HALO Branded Solutions, for example, transformed their promotional and recognition product offerings overnight to include face masks and extra hand sanitizer options. Other organizations were stuck in crisis mode, with everyone simply surviving at their jobs.

Now, these same employees are burned out both mentally and physically. They’re ready for balance and to deservedly put their happiness and wellbeing first. They’re either going to find that balance with their current employers, or they’re going to look elsewhere. Experts call it a turnover tsunami, with more than half of U.S. workers wanting to (or already having) quit their jobs this year.

This phenomenon is causing organizations to focus inward—re-engineering or doubling down on employee engagement and retention. Employer branding is a large part of that effort. Your brand story matters, but chances are it’s evolved or it doesn’t match the employee experience due to the many changes the pandemic era has hastened. Ask yourself the following three questions to determine if your employer brand is helping—or hurting—your retention efforts.

How has your brand story changed?

The world is altered. Priorities and expectations have shifted. The reason you were a great place to work two years ago may not highlight your values today. Let’s use ourselves as an example. A top attribute for career seekers pre-pandemic was our location at the heart of New York City. We didn’t flaunt a flexible work environment because why wouldn’t you want to come to work at this fantastic location every single day? Then we were forced into a remote work situation and quickly realized that it wasn’t our location but our people who are our firm’s heartbeat.

Consider your own brand story in the context of your culture and how it may have shifted not only due to the pandemic but in the framework of diversity and inclusion and other social and economic influences. What makes it attractive NOW? There’s an opportunity for companies to stand out by fully embracing and then promoting these evolutions that match how their employees and potential employees have evolved, too.

Does your brand have a split personality?

Your brand and your employer brand should build from the same core. The priority and value changes that drove you over the past year and a half and that manifested in how you responded to customer needs should be echoed in how you respond to employee needs. Too often, organizations develop an employer brand separate from their main brand. Over time, it morphs into something entirely different. Your brand story needs to be congruent enough that it can be dialed up for both audiences. Build out the story and the proof points regarding what your organization stands for and what drives it. But then connect that to what those attributes mean for employees in an elemental way (not as an afterthought).

When connecting the two, link even the most tangible benefits. Why do you provide remote work, childcare support, and other benefits? What values do those perks reflect? If the brand story you tell customers is truly part of your organization’s DNA, that connection should be apparent. This holistic approach has an added benefit: Consumers feel better about choosing places where people like to work and who are experiencing the same values that the company promises.

Do your employees have ownership over the story?

A quick route to employee attrition would be to refine your employer brand in a bubble and then have a big reveal to surprise the employees with what “their” priorities and values are. Instead, be more thoughtful with the rollout and include employees in early-phase research by sharing your objective and gathering input. They ARE your brand story, so why not have them take part in writing it? Bring them into the workshopping and ask them to identify examples and stories surrounding your values so that you can translate them into behavioral principles. If you’ve hired great people, let them tell you and the organization’s leadership who they are and what they stand for, not the other way around.

These exercises require a safe space for employees to share their experiences, which may sometimes require the help of an outside — and impartial — agency. It’s essential to hear the good, bad, and ugly to truly uncover the employer brand story and how it evolved (or should evolve, perhaps).

In the process, you may come across employees who aren’t a good fit. Maybe they never were, or perhaps their values haven’t evolved in the same way. That’s OK. Your organization isn’t for everyone. But more abundantly you’ll create a clearer purpose for those who do fit and who can’t wait to roll up their sleeves and help drive the organization forward. Plus, with a clear, consistent employer brand, the employees you hire from now on will undoubtedly see how they fit into the bigger picture.

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