How important employer branding is for employers

The labor market is in a state of flux: Whereas job seekers used to apply for positions, it is now the companies that are vying for the best skilled workers. After all, this involves a critical success factor for them: a lack of competent employees has a direct impact on a company’s marketability. As a member of senior management at the Farner communications agency, Isabel Schorer has headed Farner St.Gallen since January 2019. The FDP cantonal councilor knows how a company can position itself as an attractive employer.

Isabel Schorer, good wages, allowances, bonuses, pension plans or extra vacation days are already among the must-haves for applicants today that a company has to offer in order to be perceived as a potential employer in the first place, aren’t they?
In most industries, this is indeed the case. This is also the reason why companies are taking a deeper look at their appearance and image in the labor market. The incentives you mention are quantitative, rational, extrinsic – they apply equally to all employers. When an employee chooses a job, it’s like buying a car: first you compare price and performance. However, it takes more for a brand to make a lasting impression. 

As a result, emotional and qualitative aspects such as values, basic attitudes and corporate culture are becoming much more important.
Yes. In Switzerland, we have excess demand for labor on the employer’s side. We are facing challenges just like in the sales market: Prices are rising there – and wages are rising in the job market. However, it cannot be a company’s goal to continuously increase wages, especially since this incentive obviously only works to a limited extent. That’s why qualitative and emotional aspects are increasingly important when it comes to choosing a job.

What do applicants particularly value?
The entire package offered by the potential employer must be right. This means that not only the salary and other benefits are in line with the market, but that the employer also has an attractive, modern corporate culture that binds the employee emotionally to the company. Ideally, a meaningful corporate purpose is also evident. The more “attractive” the company, the more willing employees are to give less weight to the salary factor.

Thus, the development of the job market actually becomes a strategic task that affects the entire corporate brand and its internal and external perception.
Absolutely. This is a strategy issue, because it’s about the company’s medium- and long-term presence in a fast-moving market. Incidentally, developing and working on the employer brand often has a positive impact on the company’s overall image – even in the sales market.

“Making a promise and not keeping it can do lasting damage to a company’s image.”

Has this realization reached the companies in eastern Switzerland?
Yes and no. The challenge of a shortage of skilled workers is palpable. Companies of all sizes and from all industries are desperately seeking employees in their professional fields. This is shown by existing overarching platforms such as “IT rocks!” or “Wild East”, which want to meet this challenge together. However, the scope and benefits of a well-founded “employer branding” have not yet been recognized everywhere.

A credible image is achieved through long-term, consistent and multi-faceted communication of one’s own brand personality. What should be paid particular attention to here?
There is one important principle: strict authenticity. Making a promise and not keeping it can cause lasting damage to a company’s image. So never contort yourself as a company, stand by your own company personality – that’s the only way to find the people who will fit the company. Even companies of the same industry have many facets and are not all similar. This is expressed in the diversity of their corporate cultures, which must be made recognizable to the outside world.

Do you have an example of this?
Typical examples are Google and Swisscom, as well as other small and large companies from the IT sector, as the shortage of skilled workers has been present there for some time and a reorientation has already taken place.

How do employers recognize their own attractiveness – or their deficits?
There are a number of basic questions that can be asked: How is the corporate culture perceived internally and externally? How is team spirit and cooperation acted out? Can the employer and its employees say what the company stands for and what values it represents? Are the incentives and general working conditions in line with the market? Does the company find the desired employees at an acceptable cost? It is important to have a constant exchange with the existing employees because they are the backbone of the company and should be retained for as long as possible. The people in the company are also the best ambassadors. They convey their joy and motivation most directly and authentically to potential future colleagues. The employer should also constantly check its attractiveness, its image, with: Internal surveys, checks of employer platforms as well as comparison of the employer promises of competitors in the labor market.

How then do you go about cultivating and communicating the USP (unique selling proposition) for employees, if you will?
In particular, it is about the stable basis, i.e. the canon of values or the so-called “employer value proposition” (the employer’s value proposition to its (future) employees). This basis must be created or revised. It is the core for external communication and – very important! – also internally. USP? There is hardly any company that can boast a truly unique advantage. And it doesn’t have to be. Rather, the employer brand must be lived, cultivated and properly communicated. This is where the opportunity for differentiation lies: What tone of voice do I use to approach the market? How relevant are my messages and promises for the respective target group? What stories do I tell? What visuals and visual design do I choose? Which channels do I use to communicate?

How important is the target group-oriented approach here – Generation Z probably wants to hear different arguments than the “Baby Boomers”?
The subdivision and characterization of generations is a much-discussed topic. After all, the idea of this model is that different socialization tendencies and experiences lead to shifting values and changing life plans. But the lectures and published studies on Generation Z that are always being held are not on target. Yes, Generation Z has grown up with the Internet and mobile devices, but no other generation has ever experienced this with such consistency. But is that why they feel particularly disconnected? Is that why they constantly change employers? Is that why they have absurd wage expectations? These are the (pre)judgments of older generations who can hardly put themselves in the position of a 20-year-old today. Generation Z consists of people who are between 10 and 25 years young. They have essentially the same needs that we had when we were that age. Social, global and personal issues drive them and are brought to the forefront. It’s important for companies to take a genuine interest in the needs and behavior of today’s youth – and then ask themselves what the corporate culture of the future could be. Important here, too: It must be authentic and not superficial window dressing.

“Take this issue seriously because your backbone is at stake.”

What are the “deadly sins” of companies in employer branding that you observe most often in your work?”
Several. There are companies (including some really big ones) that simply don’t want to acknowledge their lack of attractiveness for certain professional groups. Numerous companies do not take the concept of the “Employer Value Proposition” seriously. The promises are unfortunately too often flat, interchangeable, without real commitment. In addition, the “Employer Value Proposition” is often not lived and anchored internally. This quickly leads to a loss of authenticity. And your personal advice for companies that have not (yet) thought about employer branding? First, feel the pulse regularly. What is the company’s status in the job market? Can the required workforce be found and acquired? What is the current state within the company itself? Employee satisfaction? Corporate culture? Only if you know the current state, you can intervene in time and change something. Second, take the issue seriously, because it’s your backbone. Without motivated and competent people, no marketable services can be offered. Third: By the way, the effort required to develop and anchor the employer brand is relatively manageable. The concepts for this exist and are waiting to be applied.