A new survey finds that only 19 percent of employees globally perceive a strong match between how their employer represents itself and what they experience. This match highlights a credibility gap that exposes employers to reputation risk. Closing the gap provides an opportunity for employers to more successfully drive recruitment, employee engagement and retention. An authentic employer brand is particularly critical in an age of extreme transparency where job candidates make reputational assessments with ease based on what an organization’s employees say online or through word of mouth.
“Employer branding has become an imperative in an era where talent is hard to recruit, change is rampant, engagement is weak, and Millennials have their sights on the next job,” said Kate Bullinger, Executive Vice President and Global Lead, Employee Engagement & Change Management at Weber Shandwick. “A credible employer brand revolves around a compelling narrative that is authentic, recognizable and brings to life the actual experience employees have working at an organization, whether it is the culture, leadership, training, opportunities or communications.”
The research, The Employer Brand Credibility Gap: Bridging the Divide, was commissioned by global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick in partnership with KRC Research and is based on the online responses of 1,902 full-time employees across 19 markets worldwide. It follows Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, a groundbreaking study published in 2014 about how employee activists were sparking a new social movement in the digital age.
The Employer Brand Continuum
Although the level of employer brand credibility is disappointing at 19 percent, the study finds that the terrain for improvement is wide open. Only a minority of employees (7 percent) resolutely disagrees that there is any alignment between what employers say about themselves and what they experience. The largest segment – 74 percent – falls in between. These are “marginally aligned” employees, and their employers have the opportunity to change perceptions by better defining and living an employer brand that employees recognize, believe and promote.
The industries in our study that have larger than average segments of marginally aligned employees are consumer packaged goods (84 percent), healthcare/biotechnology/pharmaceutical (80 percent), professional services (78 percent), retail (78 percent) and industrial/manufacturing (76 percent).
The Business Case for Bridging the Divide
Although credible employer brands are hard to achieve, organizations reap the following when there is alignment between employer brand and employee experience:
- Better Recruitment. Employees in aligned organizations are more likely than organizations on average to recommend their employer as a place to work (76 percent vs. 54 percent, respectively).
- Stronger Advocacy. Employees in aligned organizations are more likely than organizations on average to urge others to buy their company’s products or services (59 percent vs. 49 percent) and post or share praise online about their employer (41 percent vs. 23 percent).
- Greater Retention. Employees in aligned organizations are more likely than organizations on average to be very likely to continue to work for their employer over the next year (77 percent vs. 64 percent).
- Increased Productivity. Employees in aligned organizations are more likely than organizations on average to put more effort into their job than is required (54 percent vs. 40 percent).
A Growing Need for Credible Employer Brands
The war for talent is of hyper-competitive global concern, and winning the battle is critical to lasting success. As we reported in 2014 in Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, employees work in a state of upheaval:
- The vast majority of employees (85 percent) today experience organizational changes that affect their jobs. This high level has not changed since 2014 (84 percent).
- Employee engagement is weak and declining, from an average engagement level of 30 percent in 2014 to an average of 27 percent in 2017.
- Many employees in our survey are dealing with multiple challenges facing their industry that affect how they feel about their workplaces, with work/life balance leading the list of challenges (42 percent).
- Millennial employees are significantly less likely than their older coworkers to say they are ‘very likely’ to work for their employer for the next year (50 percent vs. 65 percent of Gen Xers and 74 percent of Boomers).
An Employer Brand Fuels Company Reputation
Amidst this extensive and continuing unrest, declining engagement and work/life balance challenges, an organization’s overall reputation becomes a highly sought-after proposition, competitive differentiator and risk mitigator. Employees at organizations with well-aligned employer brands are more than 11 times as likely as unaligned employer brands to say their organization has a ‘very good’ reputation. More importantly, a positive overall reputation is a real factor in considering a new employer, particularly among employees most likely to leave (“At Risk” employees). When the average employee is asked which criteria they would consider if they were searching for a new job, the “basics” such as compensation, employer financial stability, etc. are not surprisingly the top factors. But for At Risk employees, the reputation of the next employer rises to the #2 position in the consideration set.
“A strong employer reputation is no small change. The reputation of your employer is worth its weight in gold, but only if it turns out to truly reflect what it is actually like to work there,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist. “In this age of mega-transparency and instantaneous online reviews, employers are now accountable to who they say they are, how they treat people and live their values, and how they make a difference. Employees are more than reputation spectators, they are shaping employer brands for better or for worse every day.”
Building & Activating Credible Employer Brands
A credible employer brand doesn’t happen by accident, it is fostered deliberately through values, leadership, and good employee communications, and it is externalized authentically through a conscious effort to align words with actions and allow employees to share their experiences. Best practices – from building to activating – are gleaned from our research and are described below. Detailed support can be found in our report.
A comparison of aligned organizations to the average global organization found that aligned organizations:
- Create a culture based on internal and external purpose
- Lead the organization with credibility, trust and responsiveness
- Communicate the organization’s mission, vision, values and code of conduct
When working with clients, Weber Shandwick recommends an employer branding process that involves first understanding an employer’s current reputation in the talent marketplace and defining what it wants to be known for and stand for in the future. Secondly, companies must look within, completing an internal audit to ensure they are walking the talk. This includes making key changes to the employee experience that will help the company deliver on its values and promises.
One-third of employees globally (32 percent) post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer. In aligned organizations, this activism rises to 48 percent. Observing such a high correlation between activism and a well-aligned employer brand, we investigated what organizations do to promote positive activist behavior. Employers of activists do the following to leverage social media:
- Encourage employees to share content about their work lives on social media
- Provide a platform or program to activate their brand messages on social media
- Have rules and policies about how employees should and should not use social media to discuss work-related matters
- Monitor employee social media conversations, reinforcing that they care about what is being said about their reputation
Only after resonance testing with current employees and efforts to address areas of misalignment should an organization deploy its employer brand. Where this process is followed, employees are typically willing and eager advocates.
Bullinger concludes: “On a macro level, the findings from our study call into question the credibility of many employer brands. Employers have to strive for greater accuracy and authenticity in describing themselves and activate employees – their most credible spokespeople – as their storytellers and advocates if they are to earn the trust of prospects and employees.”
Please click here to find a report and infographic on The Employer Brand Credibility Gap: Bridging the Divide. Over the coming months we will be issuing supplemental reports on various industry sectors and markets, including healthcare and automotive.
About the Research
In partnership with KRC Research, Weber Shandwick conducted a 20-minute online survey from June 18 to August 1, 2017 among a total of 1,902 employed adults, ages 20 to 65, who work at least 30 hours per week for a large organization (500 or more employees in the U.S. and 250 or more employees in all other countries). Employees were distributed across industries, professions and job levels. Self-employed and freelance employees were not included.