05/05/2011 - 00:00

Business slow to adopt employer branding

05/05/2011 - 00:00

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Very few companies in WA are effectively selling themselves to current and prospective staff.

MOST businesses recognise the importance of corporate branding and product branding and the critical role they play attracting and retaining customers. Increasingly, businesses are also beginning to understand the key role branding plays in maximising the perception of value and the price consumers will pay for a product or service.

Strangely enough, however, businesses are only slowly starting to realise the importance of ‘employer branding’ in attracting and retaining the best staff.

Very few Western Australian businesses seem to fully appreciate the role of employer branding in minimising the dependency on remuneration in attracting and retaining staff.

Indeed, research published by The Economist supports this view. While 74 per cent of businesses believe employer branding improves retention and 54 per cent link employer branding to lower recruitment costs, only 31 per cent of the businesses surveyed had an employer branding strategy in place.

But just as corporate and product branding helps to attract and retain the best customers, employer branding helps to attract and retain the best staff – it is just a different audience. Just as corporate branding is the key to maximising the perception of product value, so too is employer branding.

To appreciate this, one needs only consider the finding that about nine in 10 job applicants are influenced by a firm’s reputation and a further six in 10 applicants will ignore a potential employer if they perceive that employer to be an ‘incompatible brand’.

While money is an important motivator for employees, it is often much less important that many employers think. A recent study published by Drake International suggests that both pride in the products and services of an organisation and pride in the company are more important than remuneration.

A competitive salary package can be a significant factor in an employee’s decision to join and remain with an employer, but it is only part of a complex equation. An increasingly important part of that equation is the ‘image of’ or potential ‘pride in’ the products and services of the organisation and indeed the organisation itself.

When at a barbeque or similar social event, employees rarely brag about their incomes but they do like to highlight the significance of the organisation they work for. Research suggests that this is particularly so with generation Y.

Of course, it is not just about attraction; it is also about retention. As labour shortages in WA intensify, there is no doubt that the best staff in most organisations are likely to get an offer from a competitor at some stage. Many of them will change jobs, often for relatively small increases in income.

In other words, many staff will move on for reasons other than money. The fact is, they care about the branding of their employer; and as jobs become more plentiful, they will care more about the ‘self-actualisation’ the job offers. And as the availability of attractive income grows, employees and potential employees move up Maslow’s hierarchy from ‘psychological needs’ to ‘self-actualisation’.

Why? When jobs are hard to come by and or incomes are low, the priority for most employees is their base psychological needs – feeding, clothing and providing shelter for the family.

As jobs become easier to come by and incomes rise, the focus for many employees shifts to self-actualisation or satisfying their need for achievement, reputation, status and other less tangible needs – many of which flow from the employer or the perception of the employer. Again, recent research suggests that ‘self-actualisation’ and an alignment with the ‘employer brand’ is stronger among generation Y than any previous generation.

Attracting and retaining staff must be seen as a core marketing activity. Establishing and communicating an optimal employer brand is as important, if not more important today, as establishing and communicating the corporate or product brand. What is more, the two need to work together ‘hand in glove’.

What is the point of having a market for a product or service if you lack the resources to deliver?

A growing number of organisations have achieved accreditation as ‘employers of choice’, and there is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that this helps in terms of attracting and retaining staff. Equally, there is evidence to suggest that it’s not enough.

There is a clear need to incorporate ‘employer of choice’ accreditation into an overall employer branding strategy. Just as you need to do more than simply produce a good product or service, so, it is not enough to be a good employer.

It is also essential to be seen as one. Moreover, it is essential that employees and potential employees are seen as critical audiences for the overall branding strategy.

This strategy must adequately addresses the needs and wants of these audiences in a way that makes the organisation as attractive as a source of employment, as it is as a source of products and services.

Organisations taking this more holistic approach to branding have tended to be the larger corporates. This is, however, changing, as are so many aspects of employer marketing including the recognition of:

• the website as a critical avenue for communicating with potential employees;

• existing employees as an important source of referral;

• the fact that value is more than just money; and

• employees and potential employees are critical audiences.

Irrespective of whether you are an ‘employer of choice’, if you want to attract and retain the best people you will need to develop and implement an employer branding strategy.

What’s more, that strategy will almost certainly: save you money in terms of salaries and the cost of replacement; make you money, by being able to employ the best people; reduce absenteeism and compensation claims among proud employees; and result in a more motivated ‘performance focused’ workforce.

Sure, it is not an easy thing to do, but the return on investment is potentially huge.

• John Carlson is group managing director at marketing and communication company, Linc.

 

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