Better than your average Virtual Conference

Today I attended Communicate Magazine’s Employer Brand Conference, where key discussion points were on EVP, engagement, impacts of COVID on future working models and employer brand communications. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. From Jonathan Austin, CEO, Best Companies, on factors impacting engagement:

Best Companies have been doing research and analysis on employee engagement and performance for 20 years. They score companies on 8 factors of their employee experience and correlate them with levels of engagement. In order, what aspects have the most impact on engagement?

  • Leadership
  • My Manager
  • My Company (the work, brand)
  • Personal growth
  • My team
  • Wellbeing
  • Giving something back
  • Fair Deal (as always, when the deal is perceived as bad or unfair, it has a negative impact on engagement but it is the least important factor in terms of positive engagement)

These factors have, if anything, become even more important during the COVD crisis and employees have appreciated active and responsible leadership and increased visibility.

  1. What are the big topics/trends in EVP and how has COVID impacted them?

a) The new F-word: Flexibility/Where are we all going to work?

Every single company presenting spoke of the need for flexibility in the post-COVID world but BEST warned against correlating WFH with higher levels of engagement and wellbeing.

Where there is 10-20% flexibility to WFH in the working week, engagement levels increase in similar proportion. But when people are WFH permanently, engagement and wellbeing levels fall off. The advice is that employers should take emergence from lockdown as an opportunity to create spaces that are engaging and where people want to be.

BEST cited Creative agencies as a particular example of an industry which understands the value/need for collaboration and social connection for their business purpose and are paying attention to developing physical, creative spaces. Where people are mainly WFH, companies need to create a budget to cover the costs of getting people together when they need to, something that would be especially relevant for larger companies divesting office space but still needing to accommodate larger off-site meetings.

Employer Brand Manager of INDEED, the world’s largest recruitment platform, spoke about the future challenge being how to treat people on a level playing field whether they are WFH or working from an office – something that is as yet unanswered.

b) There has been a marked increase in desire for personal growth

According to BEST, 2020 has been seen as all about survival, how companies and teams have had to adapt the way they deliver their work and whether people feel valued. But there is a negative impact on how people feel about their development and this factor has been marked down in recent surveys. People feel they are not progressing and will begin to look for evidence that they can grow. 

INDEED also spoke about the tide turning now and early signs of recruitment opportunities and new search activity. There is a hunger for mobility from people who have been stuck at home and/or on furlough. General perception is that the benefit of furlough has come from Govt. not their employers and so once the schemes come to an end, big numbers are going to start looking for opportunities and switching jobs. This is an area very close to my heart as the opportunity to learn and develop is a key motivator for people to engage with organisational purpose and deliver great performance at work.

c) The focus on Wellbeing has soared during pandemic

While this has been seen as a positive impact by many employees and something that they will expect to continue, wellbeing levels are slipping amongst senior managers. There is a sense of fatigue amongst more senior people who have been under pressure to perform and at the same time keeping their teams motivated. Advice is to check in on managers, identify those who need help and generally look after those who have been looking after others.

d) Generally, EVP/Employee Experience/HR function has come to the fore

Many of the companies speaking (GSK, Virgin Mobile, Philip Morris, also NHS) made the point that 2020 has accelerated or intensified the role of the employer brand, as people see careers/sectors/employers in a different light. Employers have been in the media, employment conditions are regularly talked about externally, and people will make decisions on brands based on how they treated people in the pandemic. There was a suggestion that those companies with a clear sense of purpose and values have been better equipped to navigate through the crisis with their brand in tact. As Alison Hearn of GSK rightly said, COVID has been a “moment of truth” for employer brands and people will look back and say ‘what did they do for their people in Covid?’

e) Communicating your Employer Brand

Finally, authenticity and employee-centric communication are the strong trends in Employer Brand communications. With the advent of social media over last 10 years, companies have increasingly wanted to have their best employees speaking about their brands, i.e. people in front of, not behind their brands. Employee advocacy is now seen as one of the best recruitment practices, but it needs to a) be authentic, always, so all claims are evidenced when people join and b) show both the culture of the company and the personality of the individual.

Eloise Ponting of University Hospital Southampton, NHS Foundation Trust, summed this up perfectly with the compelling example of pandemic reporting on the NHS super-heroes. “In many respects, our Employer Brand has been written for us this year, stories have humanised the NHS, showing us as people not only nurses and doctors.”  However, she stressed the importance in employer brand communications to be authentic and realistic about what the roles entailed, and rather than glamorising people as super-heroes, showing the truth behind the (face) masks. “Our communications challenge is to be authentic and realistic.”

It was great to go along with such a cohesive agenda from one of the industry’s most established commentators. Thanks to Andrew Thomas for his inimitable hosting today and to all the presenters for their thought-provoking sessions.


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