Employer branding during COVID-19

Every business’s number one priority at present is to ensure its survival. However, amid the myriad of challenges presented by COVID-19, here is another one: what is the cost of survival on a company’s reputation?

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Every business’s number one priority at present is to ensure its survival. However, amid the myriad of challenges presented by COVID-19, here is another one: what is the cost of survival on a company’s reputation?

Businesses are being judged like never before by the wider public for their actions during this pandemic. Peer to peer review sites like Glassdoor, as well as social media, will become critical reference points for those weighing up whether to work for - and with - certain companies.

These platforms were in embryonic stages of existence during the 2008 financial crisis; the last time there was comparable upheaval in the employment market. This means that any actions businesses take now, such as making redundancies, will have to be considered from a brand reputation standpoint, as well as a financial one. This presents quite the balancing act for business leaders.

Positive and negative actions

The public is already making wider judgements based on firms’ initial actions when the lockdown was implemented. Those businesses who refused to pay employees or tried to force non-essential workers into work, have been condemned by the public and will have a hard time restoring their reputation in the coming months.

On the other hand, businesses which have tried to look after employees regardless of the financial impact have been praised. For example, Timpson has promised to top up furloughed staff’s salaries to ensure that employees will receive their full wage while they are unable to work. This is despite the company making money only from physical premises, all of which have been ordered to close by the government.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said that he will allow his employees the option of working from home “forever”, while also enabling those who do want to return to the office to do so. Pret a Manger, Nando’s and other restaurant and takeaway chains have received plaudits for helping to support key workers with meals.

The benefits of positive sentiment and drawbacks of negative sentiment

While some may just view this as a PR exercise which will have no long-term benefit or detriment to a business, the changing nature of the public’s relationship with businesses and other organisations means decisions taken now could have far-reaching consequences.

As an example, look at the outpouring of support for the NHS and health workers over the past few weeks. In years gone by, the health service has been subject to recruitment shortfalls. Now people are actively volunteering to help NHS employees and services as much as possible, with support for pay rises for all workers when the pandemic ends.

This environment provides the perfect scenario for NHS recruiters looking to finally fill that recruitment shortfall, while the positive sentiment towards the health service should encourage highly qualified professionals to take the plunge.

On the flip side, those organisations that have behaved in a way the public deems unacceptable may find that they struggle to attract the same numbers of applicants to roles. Their actions could also drive existing employees to seek new opportunities. The nature of this crisis means that even the most reputable businesses are unable to retain all of their staff in order to keep operating, how they treat employees they are both able and unable to keep, will play a large part in their fortunes as the economy restarts.

There are some who may find themselves on the wrong side of history, while others will be rewarded for their actions during the pandemic.

Want to learn more about employer branding post COVID-19? Join our webinar exploring the impact of the pandemic on the 'War for Talent' and how businesses can navigate the changes.

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Matt Phipps
Principal Consultant

Matt is one of the leaders of the HR consultancy practice at Consultancy+. He has a keen interest in driving positive change in organisations’, delivering projects that add genuine value to people strategies.

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