The Future of Employer Branding

They are on the stalk, peeking, lurking, because they sense it: only a short moment of inattention and the shy game will escape. Time is fleeting, everybody knows; in the background, another hunter might even lurk. Indeed, you are not out there alone on the drive hunt – for the most coveted trophies of the 21. century: the best co-workers. Why is this the case?

“We don’t have other assets than our co-workers”
(Jörg Staff – SAP Personnel Management, 05/2011)

The progressive demographic change in Germany does not stop for any business. In various industry sectors, today already, the lack of skilled personnel is recognisable or at least foreseeable. “Forecasts of various institutes predict a distinct intensification of the bottleneck in the skilled workforce for the future. A McKinsey study predicts a lack of 2 mill. skilled workers by 2020”. But this is still one of the most positive forecasts for the development of the lack in skilled workers. The Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Labour Office) speaks of a “reduction of the potential in the labour force by 6.5 mill. by the year 2025”, caused mostly by demographic change. Another spectre lurks behind the term “emigration from Germany”: alone in the years 2003–2009 180.000 skilled workers turned their backs on Germany. One of the factors responsible, surely, is the more favourable tax situation in other countries, as for example in Switzerland, where a lower tax revenue and a higher level of wages promises skilled workers a higher income. But this factor alone cannot be the reason for the shortage in the skilled workforce in Germany. Businesses have to try harder for increasingly fewer available graduates.

“The ‘war for talents’ enters the next round” 
(manager magazin, 04/2011)

Whoever is not prepared to pursue new directions already today is going to fall by the wayside in future, as the “applicants” have already become the “evaluators”: Employer portals, manager notes and social media platforms uncover any camouflage.

Those who lose out in the fight for the best turn from hunter into hunted.

Not only the HR managers have to face their responsibility here – recruiting has become a management issue long ago. The procedure in advertising for suitable co-workers has to undergo a radical change, which originates in the business culture. While, in the past, businesses were often flooded with applications and had problems in choosing the right candidate, the situation will change insofar that there are simply not enough people applying for certain positions who also have the respective qualifications. Thus, it will become more and more difficult to staff positions with adequate personnel without first having to spend a lot of money in training them or without having to assign highly paid head-hunters for the search, who often enough do not deliver a satisfying result either. This may be one reason why more and more businesses are relying on web 2.0 for their personnel recruitment. 58 percent of businesses with more than 500 employees publish their vacancies in social media networks. Another problem is staff turnover, which is often far too high. Here, potential is being lost, since these positions have to be filled again with much effort and new staff. This indicates great shortcomings, which businesses have to tackle.

“87% of employees state that they have no or only limited attachment to their employers”.

The solution is a lasting attachment of staff to their own employer brand and a differentiating communication, which harbours the really relevant aspects, both internally and externally.

Employer Branding

This concept no longer stands for the classical “motivation” of employees with free polo-shirts sporting a pretty company logo or a nice bonus at the end of the year. Good wages and a pleasant atmosphere are not the icing on the cake anymore but merely a prerequisite. The potential for personal fulfilment and achieving personal goals are high up on the agenda of highly-qualified graduates nowadays. Societal changes, such as the fact that employees are spending more and more time at their workplace and need to be available at any time, play a decisive role, too. The boundaries between private and professional life are increasingly dissolving in the era of the internet. This is in line with almost 40% of graduates assuming that, after their graduation, they will work more than 40 hours per week in an individual employment contract, while only 3.5% assume that, following completion of their studies, their work time will be regulated at 35 hours per week in a collective employment agreement. The aim here is to position the work aspect in a meaningful way in the life of employees. The creation of meaning, which accounts for a strong attachment between employee and the employer brand, is therefore the focus of Employer Branding.

“Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they can be.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Meaningful and effective Employer Branding starts with recognising the potential within the business. Attention must be paid not only to how well-known a brand and its products are but also to the potential strengths of employees, since they shape the “self image” of the brand. It is essential to create a mutual vision, a mutual image of the future. Many businesses today still neglect the associated highlighting of lasting and really relevant perspectives. The second step is the conversion and implementation of Brand Identity into/as business culture. It is important to check the value, culture and maintenance of the brand for relevance to the employees and possibly to define and convey them comprehensibly. This creates the basis for a collective self image, which develops a strong brand loyalty.

The “new” employer image serves to root a differentiating brand image within the minds of the employees. Rules of conduct in the use of the new media can be derived from this as well. The latter enable the employees to not only live and experience the own brand internally but to also carry it to the outside world. Here, too, most businesses have an acute need for action. Nowadays, many employees understand themselves already as brand ambassadors, without ever having been appointed to this role. This becomes obvious through their participation in social network dialogues in the name of the business and, unfortunately, not always in its best interest.

Who wants to be tied to a brand you don’t even understand yourself?

In order to increase understanding and enthusiasm for the employer brand, businesses need to create relevant offers, which activate synergetic effects between brand and employee. Therefore, whoever is able to extend such an offer to potential skilled workers has the advantage of setting himself apart from competing businesses by having applied an employee-oriented business culture in the recruitment process.

The first questions on the path toward successful employer branding are:

  • Is the business brand 
differentiating and understandable for the employees?
  • Does the Brand Vision include a meaningful aspect for the employees?
  • Is there a relevant staffing programme on the basis of the Brand Identity?
  • How can existing skilled staff of the business be bound long-term to – the Brand – and utilised as motivated brand ambassadors?

Strategic solutions are needed in order to answer these questions, which define brand identity on the basis of relevant insights, so as to apply them successfully for the business as an employer brand.By Daniel Simon & Benjamin Lode, 2012