Employees, stakeholders, clients and customers will not forget nor forgive your response to COVID-19 and the effort you take to fight it today.

Companies around the world are faced with an unprecedented number of challenges and uncertainties. Some immediate challenges include business continuity and making sure all employees are safe.

While employer branding may not seem like an immediate priority to spend resources on, this is actually the exact moment when organisations must step up to respect, protect and even elevate their reputation to internal and external audiences.

employer branding reputation tips
employer branding reputation tips

stay true to your brand identity

Whether you’re planning to hire, reduce your workforce or anything in between, upholding your values and promises in a transparent and honest way, is key to managing your reputation.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing many businesses to confront a new reality that puts their employer brand to the test. For some, the significant loss of business and accompanying disruptions will mean a reduction in force. On the other end of the spectrum, organisations with critical workforces such as healthcare, medical supplies, logistics and manufacturers face enormous pressure to ramp up staffing quickly to support global needs.

Under these difficult circumstances, companies should examine how their employer brand strategy fits into their overall response to the COVID-19 crisis. Measures such as layoffs, furloughs and freezing benefits and salaries all have an impact on both corporate and employer brands. But how these actions are perceived will depend on how they are executed and communicated to the employees.

More than ever, business leaders need to remember to keep their brand identity and promises despite the difficult decisions they have to make. This is the moment in history when your true identity will emerge, and it will be easy to see if it matches who you said you are all these while.

In an article posted on Harvard Business Review, the authors contended that companies can better connect with talent if the brand delivers on its “total brand promise.” Being authentic and threading existing messaging across new courses of action should be prioritised.

1. act on your purpose

As your company looks to enhance talent attraction and workforce engagement in this trying period, you may want to rethink how your products or services are truly important to the greater societal needs. Being able to stay relevant and adapt to new circumstances can help change the perception others have of you and further strengthen your corporate reputation.

Indeed, many companies are seeking ways to contribute towards economic and societal recovery in the months ahead, and your business may be conducting similar initiatives to help your people get back on their feet. The philanthropic efforts your company undertakes today can reinforce your employer brand, while raising awareness about an issue that company leaders feel strongly about.

By demonstrating a commitment to a cause beyond revenue growth, your philanthropy sets an example and underscores your company’s purpose. If you have said in the past that societal gains were important to your organisation, this is the day you can demonstrate it.

This can have a tremendous and immediate impact on your ability to attract talent and help you reinforce your identity and culture.

2. protect your employer brand in difficult times

Staying true to your identity should also be the guiding principle when you are faced with the unenviable task of laying off employees. Across the globe, companies affected deeply and broadly by the economics of COVID-19 have already dismissed parts of their workforce. As of the end of March, the U.S. is facing huge unemployment claims. In Europe, workers are partially shielded from losing their jobs as governments in Singapore, the U.K. and the Netherlands are guaranteeing affected workers a majority of their pay. In Australia, job losses could amount to one million from COVID-19.

As a talent professional, you can help soften the impact on your employer brand and the workers affected. It is the time to adhere to the values and promises you consistently amplify with your employer brand, otherwise, you’ll be seen as untrustworthy when times are challenging.

Lessening the impact on your workforce doesn’t require significant budget outlays. What it does require is transparency – achieved with candid communication with your workforce. When people realise the economic toll that your business has to bear, they will have more sympathy reserved for downsizing measures. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you should do so in an insensitive manner. If your identity is founded on innovation and you do not look for innovative solutions, no one will ever believe you again.

If people are at the core of your employee value proposition (EVP), and you do not take care of them with honesty and compassion during this moment, they will not forget. Even among those who are retained, poor management of your workforce may lead employees to leave you when the world returns to a state of normalcy.

protecting your employer brand during a crisis
protecting your employer brand during a crisis

prepare your workforce for bad news while respecting your identity, promises and employer brand

1. be transparent about your business situation

Adopting an honest and clear communications plan will keep your workforce informed and reassured that you are being forthright. When employees are in the dark, your organisation is subject to disruptions that can tarnish your employer brand. Whether is it a change in workforce arrangements, strength or roles, let your people know before they start to worry and speculate.

2. be clear about other opportunities

Your workers want to know you are identifying all possibilities to retain them through upskilling, re-skilling and a support system if they are outplaced. You may already have a learning and development programme in place to quickly prepare employees for a new role, so make sure to leverage these capabilities and promote it internally. You can also consider using an external service to help outplaced talent seek opportunities in other companies.

3. provide emotional support to all

Workers being laid off are most in need of counselling and support systems, but are you considering the needs of retained workers? Seeing colleagues let go could have a long-term impact on your remaining workforce’s performance and morale. Make sure you have a safety net in place to help those struggling to cope with downsizing in your organisation.

4. suffer together, be a leader

Business leaders should lead by example at this moment in time. It would be unethical to keep high salaries and bonuses for the top leadership while people are displaced. It is dangerous and risky for leaders to ask others to sacrifice when they do not walk the talk.

5. use your EVP and employer brand values as your guiding light

Be consistent with your identity. Enhance your tone of voice, make your values visible in the way you communicate and help your people in these extraordinary times. Be like the friend you can count on in good and bad times.

Managing your employer brand during a crisis can be difficult, but adopting an authentic, consistent approach will help you better manage the expectations of your people and those of other stakeholders.

How well you plan for contingencies and respond will have a lasting impact on your workforce and your employer brand. You will stay in people’s memory tomorrow for your actions today.

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