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Zoom’s return to the office shows dangers of a muddled employer value proposition

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By Stephanie Pryor, Founder

September 12, 2023 | 10 min read

Stephanie Pryor, founder and consultant at Lanc Marketing, explores why so many brands are messing up their internal messaging – which, we’ve learned, is almost as important as their external comms.

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Brands spend so much time creating messages for external audiences that they often forget about the most important people in their organization: employees.

Businesses are changing fast. With revolving-door C-suites and a myriad of policy changes, companies often miss the mark when matching their employer brand to the lived experience of their workers. For example, Zoom’s recent return to office announcement provoked ire among its workforce. As a leader in the pandemic-era remote workplace, this ironic policy may have been well-intentioned, but it was not well received.

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Now, hybrid work policies aren’t all bad. There are plenty of reasons, both geographic and cultural, that may lead some employees to feel more positively about the change than others. That said, the reasons employees may have a negative reaction are many, including a loss of autonomy and flexibility, and the challenges such a policy would create for caregivers—a reality that disproportionately affects women in the workplace.

Yet, on its careers page, Zoom states that it “believe[s] that in order to deliver happiness to our customers, our employees should be happy at work. That’s why we focus on cultivating a culture around our value of Care.”

Where was this value when implementing such an unpopular policy?

The truth is that the implementation of such a policy goes beyond the scope of marketing. However, the communication around the policy should be extremely sensitive. Any missteps can result in an enormous impact on the employer brand, which may affect the company’s ability to retain and attract new talent. In Zoom’s case, it became a full-blown public relations nightmare.

It’s an issue companies ought to pay attention to. 79% of workers in the US say company culture is an important job satisfaction factor, yet only 34% of those employees are engaged at work. This high rate of employee disengagement costs up to $550bn annually in lost productivity.

The employer brand is essential for attracting and retaining talent in an increasingly competitive labor market. But, when that brand is misaligned with the real policies and culture of the organization, companies are setting employees—and themselves—up to fail.

An EVP is more than the tangibles. It’s cultural alignment

An employer value proposition (EVP) is a statement about your company’s mission, values, and culture that is intended to attract and retain talent. The tangible components of an EVP include benefits like salary, business travel, and access to offices.

However, the abstract elements, such as culture and values, are harder for companies to translate into reality. When this translation fails, misalignment begins to create significant challenges.

Eileen Jason, president and CEO of ARTA Consulting, tells me, “Companies want to say how great they are, and it sounds wonderful to a prospective employee until they get in there and realize, ‘This isn't what I signed up for.’”

Dr. Jason says that psychological safety is a critical component of alignment and open discussion. “Staff want the ability to say things that other people in the room may not agree with, without fear of being shut down, alienated, or fired.”

Without that, the connection between the employee and employer breaks down. And that can lead to teams or workers being misaligned, not connecting with each other, the people they report to, or the company.”

When employees don’t feel empowered, they may start missing deadlines, reducing effort, or showing a lack of concern for other employees. They can also start overworking themselves, leading to burnout.

How companies can create and deliver an aligned employer brand

Now, for the good news: With smart marketing, companies can develop an aligned employer brand. Research shows that it pays to put in the effort. When employee engagement increases by just 10%, profit increases by $2,400 per employee per year. Additionally, a highly engaged workforce has a higher retention rate, and employees are 59% less likely to look for a new job.

To ensure alignment between the employer brand and workplace reality, companies can take the following steps.

Do the research

Employer branding is a strategy. Like any other strategy, research is the critical first step. Work with a third party to run surveys or conduct interviews with employees. Said employees don't tend to trust even 'anonymous' surveys, knowing that there can be signals from emails or IP addresses.

A third party can gather the critical insights organizations need to create cultural shifts. From a marketing perspective, these insights can help companies develop a more realistic EVP and authentic employer brand.

Work with an expert

Organizational psychologists, like Dr Jason who helped inform this piece, can help companies better understand their employees, evaluate the state of their workplace culture, and improve outcomes. “If a company wants to create a truly aligned brand and culture, then they must take the time to find out what motivates individual employees,” said Dr. Jason, “Even though it’s a lot more work.”

Treat your employer brand like a living thing

The employer brand can not be a 'set it and forget it' initiative. In order to develop and maintain alignment within the company, repeating these steps on a regular basis is critical.

Anonymous social media platforms like Glassdoor give employees a space to share their true thoughts and feelings about your organization. If a negative trend appears in ratings and reviews, it may be time to run a more official assessment of the company’s organizational culture and employee satisfaction.

Finally, employers must go a step beyond high-level statements and get granular about the ways their values and culture are experienced by employees. If they asked the interviewer to provide specific examples of the company’s values in action, what would they have to offer? Every senior leader should be able to articulate examples of the employee experience that go beyond offering a hybrid schedule or hosting an office pizza party.

These steps encourage companies to think critically about the environment they create for employees, and empowers marketers to deliver a transparent glimpse into the company through its employer brand. Often, these shortcomings will be less obvious than a tech giant like Zoom turning its back on the remote working trend that made it.

Pryor is available on LinkedIn, X and on this website.

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