Business as Usual is Gone: Employer Brand in the Time of COVID-19

3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, according to the Labor Department’s report released on March 26. This is the highest level of initial unemployment claims in U.S. history, with the previous high being in October of 1982 at only 695,000. These numbers are unprecedented and so are the ways we are living and working as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). Now is not the time for business as usual. If you are one of the many employers who aren’t communicating to employees or candidates about the impact of COVID-19, you’re losing valuable time and brand currency. 

Many brands are consumed with sharing responses and updates all focused on the effects of COVID-19 on sales, stores, or customers. However, very few are communicating the effects on hiring or the impact on current employees. Silence is not the route to take in a crisis. If you don’t speak for your employer brand, others will fill that void with their own experiences. They will share it on review sites, social media, and with their personal networks. And those experiences are likely to be negative and reference the “black hole” candidates know all too well. 

The perception of your brand amongst employees and candidates during a crisis will be just as impactful as the perception your customers have of your brand.  

5 Tips on How to Manage Your Employer Brand during COVID-19

Start considering the impacts on your employer brand so you can take action now. Here are 5 things to keep in mind:

  1. Everyone is craving information, guidance, and resources. That includes candidates, employees, hiring managers, and recruiters—don’t neglect or forget any of your audiences. Take the time to understand how your audiences are feeling and what they need right now. Focus on sharing information on the channels that have the biggest impact like your careers site, social media, and key touch points in the employment lifecycle. After examining 50 career websites of some of the largest employers in the United States, team exaqueo discovered that nearly 75% of them are not addressing COVID-19. What a missed opportunity! You cannot assume that posting one message on your Facebook page will be enough or that your candidates will see it. Make sure you are utilizing the one channel you know candidates will visit when they are ready to apply—your careers site.    

  1. Forget the standard message and automation, now requires a human touch. Check all of your scheduled messages, automated templates, and drip campaigns to fine-tune your messaging and ensure it’s consistent, timely, and empathic to audiences. If your audiences are receiving “friendly reminder” emails or conflicting messages about the hiring experience, you are inflicting damage to your employer brand. Create communications that reflect the values of your organization and provide transparency and context during this crisis. Messages with empathy and infused with humanity are more important now than ever before. If you need a starting point, exaqueo has created a number of candidate communication templates to help.  

  1. Clean the house, then the yard. While this is a good recommendation for how to spend your time during quarantine, it also serves as a metaphor for aligning your crisis communications. First, look internally at your messages and coordinate with marketing, PR, or corporate communications to understand the state of your organization and what’s approved to communicate. Then train your employees, not just recruiters, on the communication guidelines. Make sure you provide updated templates, talking points, FAQs, and other resources to ensure everyone is informed and aligned. Once messaging is aligned and employees are informed, then start communicating externally. Apply your organization’s overall COVID-19 communication strategy across all your channels, adjusting the message based on the audience and platform. Consistency builds trust and loyalty, especially during times of crisis. 

  1. Ask “How are you doing?” and “How are we doing?” to everyone. Feedback is important all of the time, but even more important during a crisis. You need to understand how employees and candidates feel about how your organization is handling COVID-19. However, you cannot rely on your standard candidate feedback survey or employee engagement questionnaire right now. Instead, update the messaging to be more empathic and lead with a question that shows your compassion for the person sharing their feedback. Taking the time to ask questions like ‘How are you?’, ‘What do you need?’, ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ can make the difference between someone taking the time to give feedback and someone just hitting delete or closing the browser. 

  1. Be optimistic and plan for the future. Every crisis comes to an end. Even if COVID-19 doesn’t disappear, we will eventually adjust to a “new normal” and a new way of working. But don’t wait until then to start taking action! Find out from employees now what they expect from the organization once the crisis has passed. Gain an understanding of candidates' sentiments now as well as their preferences for benefits and expectations in an employment experience when they do return to work. The time will come when you are de-escalating your lay-off efforts, re-hiring, or even ramping up hiring. How you plan for that time now can determine how successful you will be in the future. 

A crisis is a true test of loyalty, confidence, and the human spirit. Will your brand be positively or negatively remembered for how you treated employees during COVID-19? When it’s over, will candidates and furloughed employees be rushing to your organization or switching to a talent competitor? What you do as an organization and how you do it truly matters, and it will make a difference in your employer brand and your recruiting efforts, now and after this crisis is over. 

You don’t have to navigate this time alone. If you are looking for additional workforce resources on how to respond during COVID-19, visit exaqueo’s knowledge share page or contact our crisis response center for customized support.

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