If reports and predictions of experts are to be believed, by the first quarter of 2021, we might start looking to come out of the wreck that the pandemic has done, and hopefully, the global economy would be on its way on the rebound. And as the market gets better, your hiring demands also blooms. And you are here, wrapping up an interview with a promising candidate and the question to you is “What did you do to protect your employees during the coronavirus pandemic?”
The COVID-19 crisis has put severe pressure on organizations to cut payroll costs as they tighten their belts and continue to weather economic uncertainty. Not only companies have laid-off several employees but have also followed practices like furloughs, suspended raises and bonuses, deducted salaries, and reduced benefits.
Since the onset of COVID-19, employers have produced a spectrum of messaging—good, bad, and ugly. Some of it, especially early on, ignored the magnitude of the crisis. Some have come off as inauthentic and derivative, and the worst appears to be exploiting the calamity.
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How you communicate with your employees, your candidates, and the public in a crisis time can make or break your employer brand for the years to come.
Consider the following examples:
This is my seventh time talking to you from my house. Each time we’ve talked, I’ve shared good news and bad news, but today I have to share some very sad news.
When you’ve asked me about layoffs, I’ve said that nothing is off the table. Today, I must confirm that we are reducing the size of the Airbnb workforce. For a company like us whose mission is centered around belonging, this is incredibly difficult to confront, and it will be even harder for those who have to leave Airbnb. I am going to share as many details as I can on how I arrived at this decision, what we are doing for those leaving, and what will happen next.
Let me start with how we arrived at this decision. We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill. Airbnb’s business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecasted to be less than half of what we earned in 2019. In response, we raised $2 BN in the capital and dramatically cut costs that touched nearly every corner of Airbnb…
…. It was important that we had a clear set of principles, guided by our core values, for how we would approach reductions in our workforce. These were our guiding principles:
Map all reductions to our future business strategy and the capabilities we will need.
- Do as much as we can for those who are impacted.
- Be unwavering in our commitment to diversity.
- Optimize for 1:1 communication for those impacted.
Wait to communicate any decisions until all details are landed — transparency of only partial information can make matters worse.
The above passage is an excerpt from a letter from Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb. Chesky was completely transparent. He explained exactly how the company made the cuts, making it clear the goal was to eliminate the positions, not the people. He also provided clarity on the next steps and explained exactly how and when the layoffs will be made. Finally, he described how Airbnb will support the employees who are being laid off.
Lesson learned: Be transparent: Pay attention to how layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts are communicated internally and externally. There's been an over 70 percent increase in Glassdoor reviews mentioning layoffs. Employees know that business has changed, and revenue is down for a lot of industries—it's really more about how employers are reacting to those challenges, how they handled the layoffs, as opposed to the decision to conduct the layoffs."
Doug McMillion, the President, and CEO of Walmart visited numerous Walmart stores and talked with his employees working on the front line. He writes about it on his LinkedIn profile, so his employees can see exactly what their CEO is doing in the midst of the chaos around him - taking care of his people.
This is just one of the messages he posted recently on LinkedIn:
McMillion’s visibility is intentional and designed to demonstrate empathy as well as focus. But the point here is that he doesn't just talk the talk, he also walks the walk. Walmart’s employees received a COVID-19 bonus.
Lesson learned: Set the right tone: Messaging needs to be assessed and reassessed routinely to ensure that employers don't come across as tone-deaf to the current situation or pushing an agenda. Acknowledgment is an important factor during crisis communications. Silence communicates insecurity or a lack of concern. All employers should have a public statement on their careers page about how they are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Content is king!
From the above two examples, one key element to elevate your employer brand now is focusing on the content. As per Forrester Research, it takes up to eight brand touchpoints to influence a consumer’s decision. Employer branding touchpoints consist of job listings, website and blog, culture and corporate values, candidate communication, and careers page. These touchpoints are directly under the company’s control. The touchpoints also consist of company reviews, employee stories and advocacy, and social media activity. These are things a company can directly influence. The final two parts are public perception and awards and accolades, which a company can indirectly influence.
Leveraging social media to communicate your brand
During a global pandemic when face-to-face contact is restricted, Facebook leveraged its mission to bring people together and inspire hope in a time of anxiety. The brand released a powerful ad reminding people that, despite feeling lonely, we’re not alone. The spot also urged those who needed or could offer help to reach out through Facebook’s online COVID-19 community.
People want to work for a company with a purpose. Facebook’s ad first shows the isolation the pandemic has caused through photos of quiet streets and empty shelves in grocery stores. The ad then pivots to show how we’re still connected, virtually through platforms like Facebook and emotionally in our fight to stop the spread.
It’s a brief but incredibly moving spot that ultimately positions Facebook as a force for good and a solution to the challenges of our new reality. In short, it shows a brand with a mission and an important story to tell. That resonates with job seekers; 67 percent of employees want to work for a company with a mission they believe in more than they want a higher paying salary.
There's no getting away from the fact that this crisis is going to have a huge impact on companies' employer brands. Considering the nature of the crisis, it's probably going to be even worse than during previous recessions. Companies that are going to ignore employer branding altogether now, and not give it any attention again until the economy and the labor market start to recover, will be the losers of tomorrow's labor market.