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Overcoming a negative employer brand

Being real and transparent, determining what works for you reputation management


March 11, 2020
By Brian Kreissl

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Photo: tumsasedgars/Getty Images

Every organization has an employer brand whether they’re aware of it or not. This applies not only to large, well-known employers, but also to brand new start-ups and even small mom and pop shops.

People have a perception what it might be like to work for the organization. Companies try to carefully manage and curate that image and are increasingly aware of how their organization is perceived in the labour market.

Obviously, the goal is to try to position the organization as an employer of choice, but what if the reality is far from that situation? Companies spend a lot of money in attempting to be included on one or more lists of top employers, but what if your organization is light years away from best employer status? And what happens when employer branding takes a hit due to a highly publicized public relations disaster?

Suboptimal employer branding

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Many organizations suffer from suboptimal employer branding, and I believe there are two things they need to understand. First, the best way to be perceived as an employer of choice is to actually become one. Secondly, even if there are negative aspects of the organization’s employer brand, the company needs to remain authentic and transparent and avoid trying to be something it’s not.

There is no point in trying to put lipstick on a pig by creating hype and spin and trying to promote the organization as a wonderful place to work when the reality doesn’t match that desired image.

If the work environment is unpleasant, the work is dirty, smelly, boring and repetitive and there is little opportunity for advancement, there is no point in promoting your supposedly fantastic work environment and organizational culture and the “exciting” nature of the work.

A better approach is to perform an audit of your existing employer brand and employment value proposition (EVP) to determine what attracts, retains, motivates and engages your current workforce and promote that. Why do people stay, and what is it about your organization and the work you do they find attractive?

This is going to depend on the profile of your workforce. While you want to be committed to diversity and ensure your work environment is inclusive, you should also be mindful of certain characteristics of your workforce that attracts them to the type of work, including their educational and professional backgrounds, previous experience and career ambitions.

This can help in the development of several employee personas. These consist of fairly detailed descriptions of the characteristics of fictional archetypes representing the profile of employee groups that work for your company. Again, it is important to be inclusive and avoid anything that would amount to discrimination based on one or more of the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the governing human rights legislation.

Many of us have seen pictures of Google’s offices and are familiar with some of the benefits and perks offered by many top employers.

The reality is not every organization has the same resources as Google, but the idea is to determine what specifically engages your workforce and highlight those aspects of the work.

Even if you aren’t providing truly best in class programs, you should be able to determine what types of programs you can implement for your workforce given your budget and other organizational constraints. Auditing your employer brand should be an opportunity to determine whether your employment value proposition works for you, and if not, how it could be tweaked through better rewards and recognition, learning and other types of programs.

Bad things happen to good companies

When it comes to negative public relations, it is important to be mindful of the principles of reputation management and remember that bad things can happen to good companies. Above all, it is important to be honest and open and acknowledge negative comments about the organization, while ensuring you have a commitment to overcoming your bad press.

Reputation management has both online and offline components and should focus on issuing a sincere and genuine apology, developing a heartfelt and genuine response to criticism and having a commitment to rectify the situation as much as possible and ensure the problem doesn’t occur again. You can also manage your reputation online through search engine optimization, digital marketing and other techniques.

With a concerted effort, companies can overcome public relations disasters and move beyond a tarnished employer brand.

Brian Kreissl is a product development manager with Thomson Reuters in Toronto. He looks after HR, payroll, OH&S, records retention and Triform. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com or (416) 609-5886. For more information, visit https://store.thomsonreuters.ca/en-ca/home.