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Building on the opportunity that comes from chaos

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There's no doubt that the Covid-19 outbreak has overturned every area of our lives in a matter of weeks. Imposed restrictions have forced us all to adapt to a new reality and adjust our lives and routines to keep the world spinning. But are these really imposed ‘restrictions’ or should we consider ourselves in a state of enforced transformation instead?

Whilst most are seeing the glass half-empty, those that are optimistic and can find opportunity within such chaos may very well benefit from this crisis in the long run. Uncertainty can encourage us to re-evaluate and pursue new and better ways of operating, moving us towards survival and growth. Every industry and every pocket of society could do with a rethink and the winners will be those who let this challenging time change their way of thinking.

At Wiser, for example, our mission is to change the way people think about work. Yes, we’ve been challenged but we’ve also never had such a strong catalyst. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has drastically transformed how companies operate and the way people work. We are looking to see how businesses make decisions and treat people during this period. It's times like these when true colours shine and having a strong employer brand can really guide your decision making and safeguard the wellbeing and livelihoods of your people.

Your employer branding can create a much needed sense of security.

Such profound life changes have directly impacted people's behaviours, beliefs and values. Faced with uncertainties people become more reflective about their priorities in life, in their relationships and also at work. And this in turn makes them want to work for companies with a mindset aligned with theirs. As Covid-19 creates uncertainty, companies need to do what's within their reach to provide the sense of stability people now require.

A strong employer brand gives company leaders the right tools to confidently address candidates’ and employees‘ struggles and insecurities. It can help people understand the company's broader ideas and perceptions about how it can work itself through such uncertain times. Even more importantly, it can effectively guide how the company will take care, keep people safe and provide orientation, so that they can feel stable in their jobs and secure about their activities. And so, the company may more effectively maintain the vital sense of security we all need to continue performing on a day to day basis.

Purpose and profits

Based on its “business unusual” value, Patagonia has decided to temporarily close its stores and offices. Unlike other retailers, Patagonia even put online orders on hold in the beginning of the outbreak, keeping all of its employees at home until it found a final solution to keep all employees safe. It also guaranteed to pay workers their full pay even while doors would remain shut.

Patagonia has also opted to shrink profits in favour of a purpose or cause in other situations, and has once again proved that its beliefs towards the wellbeing of the community remains top priority. Its philosophy has helped it do the right thing and guide them in its business decisions. Now, a few weeks later, the business reopened and published on its website what new protocols and safety measures it has incorporated into its business and operations to ensure its purpose remains at the core of its actions.

Employer branding can help communicate in a transparent and trustful manner

The outbreak also marks the new ways businesses and people relate with each other. This relationship is now defined by a much higher mutual commitment, honesty, and, above all, an appreciation for transparency as a premise for building relationships and reputations. More than ever before, candidates and employees are looking to work for a company whose communication style is crystal-clear and transparent.

Edelman's most recent Trust Barometer Special Report emphasises that people strongly believe employer communication is the most reliable source of coronavirus information – more than any other medium. So it is critical that any type of communication between employees and employers is accurate, consistent and empathic. A clear definition of your employer brand will serve as the basis for the entire relationship between companies and employees, guiding the company towards the best treatments, policies and measures and so, may help ultimately build trust.

Innocent is a great example of a brand that has consistently built a trustful, warm and empathetic tone of voice. Since its founding in 1999, Innocent has taken full responsibility for the impact its company has on society and in the world, making it a company to be proud of for all time. This has always come through in the way it presents itself online, using humour and entertainment to express its brand personality and to stimulate positivity.

Its social media channels are full of creative, unique and empathetic posts inviting people to share and engage with the brand while giving people ideas such as how best to use their time during quarantine; how people can interact with those they love; a list with 100 things to do inside during quarantine and daily updates covering topics such as weather, TV movie schedule and suggestions of hand washing songs.

Even more interestingly is the fact that this tonality isn't exclusive to external communications; this approach is also helping its employer brand leverage engagement with customers and employees during the actual circumstances we are living in. Most recently, Innocent has included a new section on its website called ‘How we’re keeping busy,‘ shining a light on its internal actions and building transparency by disclosing causes it embraces to help those most affected and exposed to Covid-19.

Employer branding can help stress-test your company’s values

Your company may be suffering from the crisis. But that’s no reason to de-prioritise how your people are feeling. No matter how much your business may be haemorrhaging, your people in the business will carry the strain, as well as worrying about the personal impact of this period on their livelihoods. The best business leaders at this time will remember to put themselves into the shoes of their employees – remembering that it’s their people managing difficult conversations with clients; working extra hours to keep that new product line going; repurposing factories and machines to deliver against more urgent needs; analysing each and every angle of how Covid-19 may affect their business to avoid a crisis. And all of this with fear of having a pay cut, potentially being furloughed or even being made redundant.

Strong company values can create a sense of identity and belonging, which is essential in times of crisis. Even if unconsciously, employees will hold on to the values that bring everyone together making them feel it’s possible to go through difficult times – being favourable or not. Sooner or later, employers will get to know if their company's values inspire and guide the business of if they’re just vague words on a wall or fragile sentences sitting on your website. There’s never been a better time to question if your employer branding has delivered truthful and relevant values that can help the company live through such other harsh moments, now and in the future.

In its Covid-19 response, McDonalds takes an interesting and clever approach. The same way they have values in place to drive their business, they have outlined five principles (see below) shared by its chief executive through a video, specifically to help them respond to this crisis. This not only helps guide them as it also translates and communicates the way they care for their workforce and the community, whilst ensuring that everyone works towards the same goals.

1. We’re all in this together

2. Think and act with a long-term mindset

3. Be transparent with each other and our stakeholders

4. Lead by example

5. Stay true to our purpose

Based on their belief that we are all in this together, these values provide safety and comfort to employees, customers and communities, ensuring that all actions made by the company are taken with great care and on a person-to-person level.

Your employer branding can shape what your company truly stands for

The lack of structure in the last few months has made us value what is truly important as we begin to digest the ‘new normal‘. Social isolation has opened our eyes to the value of social contact and because of this, humanity is getting together in an unprecedented way to support our communities.

Edelman’s report also explores the critical role brands are expected to play during the coronavirus pandemic and what the public expects to see as a response from business. Not only do people want to feel their company is taking care of them, they want to see the actions they're putting in place.

So instead of being paralysed in the face of the crisis, companies must show that they are actively addressing the current challenges in order to guarantee they'll come through to the other side safe and sound. The scars left by this pandemic will cause people to question whether they are proud and want to be related to the company they work for.

People want to think they're individually doing something meaningful and they feel they can do this through working for companies that do good. If before the term 'purpose' was seen by many as marketing speak, it now becomes even more a fundamental partner of employer branding for candidate attraction and employee retention.

Amid this situation, a strong employer branding can be the difference between keeping a valuable employee or losing them to the competition. It can make the difference between attracting that talented professional the industry was seeking or losing them to a completely different and more appealing category.

Acting with purpose

Cigna is a global health service company dedicated to helping the people it serves improve their health, well-being, and peace of mind.

One of its five company values is “acting with speed and purpose”. During these challenging times, this has been even more of a vital pillar of the company. As soon as the Covid-19 started to impact our lives, the company began to act quickly putting its purpose into action by building a resource centre on its intranet which is frequently updated with news, blog posts from leaders around the organisation, and employee spotlights guaranteeing a sense of pride and safety for employees.

For future candidates, it has a number of contact points to communicate its efforts, including a careers site coronavirus content hub and social media content. Since the very first week of the outbreak, it became clear that people would want to understand how Covid-19 would impact its hiring process. Cigna filled that void really well by regularly updating the page with new questions that we get asked from applicants.

For a long time, we've heard the sentiment from businesses that they put their people first. Now we've been given a chance to see who was telling the truth. Now is not the time to go quiet. It is the moment to enhance communications and solidify your mantras.

It is the time to help shine your company’s culture as it plays the crucial role of keeping everyone together in the face of so much instability and fear. And not only will it help bring stability in moments of crisis, the actions of brands today will echo in the years to come, paving the way for future employer brand strategies.

Beatriz Muroch, research & insights, Wiser