“Adversity doesn’t build character – it reveals it.”
In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are rightly consumed by the pressing work at hand – how to survive the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and how to sustain as much of their workforces as possible in the process.
With some organizations having already laid off or furloughed staff, and others working furiously to avoid having to do the same, the HR leaders we’ve spoken to over the past several weeks have shared two questions most top of mind as they navigate this new normal:
How do we treat the team members to whom we may have to communicate such unfortunate news?
How do we maintain a supportive, empathetic work environment for team members whose work lives have been turned upside down?
Predictably LinkedIn and other industry outlets have shined light on the extremes: on the one hand, we’ve heard heartwarming stories of certain executive teams that are skipping their pay to keep more workers employed for longer, and on the other, we’ve heard stories of organizations which announced layoffs via last-minute, deeply impersonal Zoom meetings ominously labeled “Business Update” or similar.
It’s natural to be drawn to these extremes because they are easiest to make sense of in a time when little makes sense. At the same time, these extremes are perhaps least informative because they are so predictable: Generally, organizations that entered the crisis with the strongest, most authentic employer brands have handled themselves better than those whose career sites were more marketing “fluff” than reality. In other words, adversity didn’t build their brands; it revealed them.
Arguably more interesting are the organizations that occupy “vast middle” – the many small to medium businesses which entered this crisis with nascent or loosely defined employer brands. How can they best make sense of this crisis through the lens of employer brand, and what trends should be top of mind as they look to a future when hiring once again resumes?
Reputation Management Will Become More Complex as Review Sites Become Noisier
We’ve written at length about the blessing and curse of third party employer review sites. They can be a valuable source of information for employers and job seekers alike. They can also become a cesspool for anonymous disgruntled employees (aka “squeaky wheels”) whose opinions are difficult to put in appropriate context.
With unemployment reaching historic highs and no clear sign of when the global economy will reopen, it stands to reason that sites like Glassdoor will see an uptick in negative reviews from employees who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. To be clear: writing a negative review for an employer who let you go does not make you “disgruntled,” but the question of context remains – how are job seekers and employers to objectively evaluate ratings that may have taken a sudden hit due to layoffs?
We don’t expect job seekers will turn away from review sites, but we do think savvy job seekers will begin to look beyond average ratings to the actual content of reviews, and the “bar” for what constitutes an acceptable rating could well go down.
For employers, getting beyond averages and segmenting your review data by date, department, and location (among other variables) will become increasingly important. And organizations that “own” their ratings rather than hide from them will be better positioned to attract talent when the economy does reopen.
Brands Will Be Defined by How They Take Ownership of Their Missteps
While it’s easy to demonize companies that have laid off workers abruptly, the fact remains this is a crisis unlike any most of us have ever seen. Many companies experienced sudden drops of revenue to nearly zero overnight, a reality that no amount of foregone executive pay could possibly account for. Laying off people is hard, and mistakes happen – even among companies with good intentions.
Does this excuse poor treatment of current (and recently let go) employees as they navigated the crisis? Of course not – however, it does make it more understandable. Much as we wouldn’t judge our friends or neighbors by their behavior under the most extreme duress, companies (and their employer brands) will have similar opportunities for redemption once the curve has been flattened and hiring resumes.
In other words, organizations willing to own the mistakes they made during the crisis will have a major opportunity to authentically express what they’ve learned and in so doing, emerge with a clearer purpose and value proposition (EVP).
In essence: “We wish we had handled this better and here’s what we’re doing to ensure it never happens again: ______.”
Companies that are prepared to make such statements clearly and honestly are likely to have a meaningful advantage over companies who sweep their missteps under the rug or continue to push marketing “fluff” in their recruitment marketing messages.
Employer Brand Will Become a Powerful Tool in the War for Organic Job Traffic
Early data from Appcast suggests paid job ad volume and job seeker traffic are both down significantly in the past month. On some level this isn’t terribly surprising: with unemployment skyrocketing, there are simply fewer jobs available to advertise, and many job seekers are stuck at home indefinitely, which is a non-starter for many careers that can’t be easily done remotely.
What did surprise us, however, is that paid job seeker traffic remains down even for companies that are increasing their hiring of essential workers, like delivery drivers, grocery store staff, and warehouse workers. At the same time, Appcast reports that conversion rates for organic traffic have increased – suggesting job seekers may be shifting their approaches to searching.
The nearly overnight reversal from a “employee’s” job market (low supply of talent and high demand) to an “employer’s” job market (high supply and low demand) may mean job seekers will be more active in seeking out specific companies directly, rather than discovering companies and jobs by browsing ads on job boards.
In this environment, where candidates are more likely to navigate directly to your career site, what will they find when they arrive? Hint: inauthentic messages and stock photos aren’t likely to cut it.
Organizations with a clear notion of their EVP – and authentic content addressing how they responded to the crisis (and yes, how they’ve owned their missteps along the way) are likely to reap the rewards of this new wellspring of organic traffic.
Comments? Questions? Think we’re right (or wrong)? We love to chat with leaders in the space. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org