Employer Branding: embracing the good, the bad and the ugly

14 June 2021

When thinking about your employer brand as a tool to attract tech talent and stand out from the competition in the tech recruitment market, it’s natural to think about the positives. However, no employer in their right mind will promote the negative aspects of their employer brand as it’s a sure-fire way to deter tech candidates from applying for your job. Instead, employer branding in the tech space is all about celebrating what makes your business unique as an employer, showing you’re innovations, company culture and what you can offer your team members that your closest competition cannot.

Employer Branding is not a physical concept which you can determine. Instead, it’s built upon what employees, candidates and even the more general public think of you as an employer. Of course, you can influence these perceptions through employer brand communications on social media. However, you cannot ever have complete control.

Speaking of social media, it’s made employer brand shortfalls more commonplace and easier to bring to light. Where previously discrepancies like unpaid overtime or workplace bullying could fall under the radar, social media gives employees a voice to draw attention to important issues. In addition, with the ability for almost anyone to leave a review or share their opinions, employers have nowhere to hide, and if you slip up, it will be pointed out. Sometimes these stories can even be picked up by the press, creating a media storm around you as an employer and tarnishing your employer brand dramatically.

A negative employer brand perception can impact how the general public sees your consumer brand, and it can have disastrous consequences. But obviously, sometimes discrepancies happen. Social media slanderings only tell one half of the story but can still put you in a bad light for years.

Plus, it’s not unusual for managers to take on new challenges in the world of talent acquisition or for companies to overhaul employer brand communications entirely with a whole new EVP. Therefore, what do you do if you’re faced with negative employer brand perceptions? What happens if you join a company with a bad rep or if you find yourself in the middle of a scandal?

We’ve outlined some of the situations where it’s appropriate (if not essential) for you to not only promote the positive aspects of your employer brand but address the less pretty elements too.

Joining a Business with a Bad Rep

Sadly, if you’re taking over talent acquisition at a new business that has a negative employer brand perception, then you cannot simply wipe the slate clean and start afresh. As much as we all wish that reputation were as easy to change as your branding, it really isn’t. Therefore, you cannot just simply forget the past mistakes and hope your image will alter instantly. Any good employer brand professional will realise the importance of acknowledging mistakes and shortfalls before you can move on. For example, say the business you’ve joined has been known for not paying women the same as male employees, and your gender equality has previously been called into question; a change in direction will mean acknowledging this mistake publicly and showing how you’re going to improve moving forwards. Otherwise, your fancy and eye-catching employer brand promotions will be loaded with pre-existing perceptions from female candidates.  

In the Middle of a Scandal

Similarly, if you find yourself in the middle of a scandal, you cannot ignore the situation and hope it will disappear, much like the recent BrewDog scandal. It could impact your employer brand for years affecting your employee retention, quality of candidates and overall talent acquisition strategy. In the world of employer branding, you need to address the good, the bad and the ugly; you can’t shy away from errors or mistakes. If you do, it will create the idea that this is common practice in your organisation and not a big deal – which will ring alarm bells for your current workforce and future applicants. You’ll see a higher turnover and fewer applications if you brush issues under the carpet.

Instead, you should ensure to either put out a statement – luckily, social media makes this incredibly easy to do – or work to improve your branding. For example, say you’ve been accused of discriminating against LGBTQ+ employees, why not actively try to celebrate Pride Month? Share stories of your LGBTQ+ employees and focus your employer brand comms around building a more inclusive culture. However, employer branding should always be based on accuracy; otherwise, you’ll be called out again. So if you’re going to take action to publicly promote issues you’ve been called out upon in the past, you must talk to your team and engage them in honest conversations. That way, if there is an issue, you can make sure it is addressed so that you don’t fall into the same trap a few months down the line. Plus, don’t be like BrewDog and try and lay blame elsewhere, acknowledging and owning up to short fallings will reflect better on you in the future.

Diversifying Your Business

Then there’s the issue of diversifying your business. Say you’re a bank which is seen as quite a traditional, corporate place to work. However, you want to embrace a more technical future and are looking to upscale your tech recruitment to keep up with the latest trends and compete in your sector. To change your image, you must address where you’ve come from and where you wish to end up. Otherwise, you could create an entirely false image for candidates, and this could lead to a very high turnover of staff in the beginning. So rather than painting a fantasy image to entice tech talent, show where you’ve been and sell your vision of a more technical future. Consider the needs of tech talent and their motivations for joining a workplace, which can all be found with a bit of market research. This comes down to honesty and having conversations throughout the candidate journey that accurately communicate your brand mission and goals.

If you wish to appeal to a new demographic of talent, like tech candidates, you need to know what appeals to them. Then, work to embrace this in your company culture and EVP, along with the employer brand communications you put out to the public. Research and focus groups will help you see your shortfalls and understand why you aren’t currently an employer of choice for tech candidates. Only then can you work to improve and make promises for a better, more appealing workplace. Never make false promises or think you know candidates better than they know themselves.

How Can You Prevent This?

This is why your teams must monitor employer brand perceptions over time. Through monitoring a wide range of data points and surveying potential candidates regularly, you’ll be able to ensure your employer brand perceptions are always accurate and as positive as possible. You can ensure that your reputation is upheld by monitoring social media sentiments, brand perception, willingness to apply and actual applications. Holistically, the data will create an overall picture of how your employer brand is perceived in the tech talent market. If it suddenly takes a turn for the worse, say you see a decrease in applications and website traffic, but also your social media sentiments are low, you’ll know that some recent action or activity has fuelled a negative perception of you as an employer. You can then look back at the source of the problem and address it before things get too ugly. You can also inspect the aspects of your employer brand that may deter candidates through research methods and work to address these to make a more attractive proposition in the future; this will improve your retention, attrition and overall employer brand image.

At Talent Works, we can help you create authentic, research-led employer brand communications that appeal to the right audiences and monitor how you are perceived in the recruitment market. We help brands to understand external and internal perceptions to identify areas to improve. We can then use these to inform EVPs and make a more inclusive and better workplace.

We have a wide range of experience building tech employer brands and helping to build, diversify and repair employer brand perceptions in a range of industries. With in-house research, creative and digital teams, and sourcing capabilities, we’re uniquely placed to help create well-informed campaigns that can deliver employer brand messaging to select audiences and potential candidates.

To learn more about our services and how our flexible approach to RPO can help with talent attraction and employer branding challenges, contact us today.

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