From The Great Resignation to The Great Recalibration

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Before joining Grace Blue last year, I spent more than a decade leading global employer brand for a large professional services organization. It’s a brand practice that in many ways is still quite nascent, though there are dedicated practitioners doing inspiring work around the world and the market for employer brand roles is happily exploding. I’m not surprised. In my role at Grace Blue, I’ve gained a more fully formed picture of how CHROs and CMOs are thinking, their priorities, and what they are responsible for from a metric standpoint, and from everything I’m seeing, employer brand is right at the top of their lists.

No doubt The Great Resignation has accelerated their concern. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 50 million people left their jobs voluntarily in 2021. Obviously, the past two years have been harder on some sectors than others, with many people in industries initially deemed nonessential like hospitality, retail, and restaurants switching or leaving careers altogether out of necessity.

But many others switched because the very idea of work, in the new context of their lives, suddenly took on a different shape and meaning. Some started their own businesses. Some went back to school. Some were inspired to seek purpose and fulfilment doing something completely different in an entirely new industry. Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen that trend extend far into sectors not immediately impacted by shutdowns, with people in, for example, professional and financial services, as well as marketing and communications, reconsidering everything they thought about what it means to work.

So yes, the number of open roles employers are struggling to fill is ongoing evidence of the effects of The Great Resignation.

But the number of people even at the most senior levels rethinking why they work and how they feel at work are signs The Great Resignation has evolved into something else entirely: The Great Recalibration.

Evan Nesterak, Editor-in-Chief at the Behavioral Scientist notes “The shift in how we work over the past few years seems to have spurred us to start focusing more on why we work. It laid bare the disconnection between our aspirations for why we go to work and what we experience and do when we’re there.”

Employer brand champions at the C-level are scarce

Employer brand practitioners typically work very closely with recruiters and talent leaders all over the world to help craft talent attraction strategies. Recruiter feedback helps shape everything those practitioners do from an employer brand and recruitment marketing standpoint, but their feedback should also be critical input into talent program development and investment strategy. Now that I am a recruiter in executive search, I better understand what front line recruiters are up against, and how important employer brand is in helping them deliver top talent for their organizations.

Across Grace Blue’s global practice, we are fortunate to get an intimate view into how candidates evaluate opportunities, and, in many cases, higher compensation doesn’t always translate into a signed offer.

Candidates want flexible working options and benefits that matter to them. They want to be surrounded by people who respect them, not just as revenue generators, but as people with full lives outside of work. They want to feel that what they’re doing is meaningful.

They want to be cared for and considered within a supportive culture that values the employee experience and contribution as much as it values that of the customer or client.

Employer brand has the power to help do just that, but only if it has the same champions in the C-suite that customers and clients do. If your company is having trouble bringing in the talent it needs to thrive, ask yourself: do you have recruiting challenge or an employer brand challenge?

There have been a lot of interesting and exciting developments in employer brand lately. The world has changed dramatically over the past 2 years and many employers are struggling to adapt. Companies can’t rely on the same tactics and benefits they’ve always relied on when trying to attract talent. Benefits, comp structures, culture, and talent programs need to evolve, and fast, and so do the ways they communicate that to candidates.

To get there, C-level leaders need to pay attention to this recalibration of work and stop thinking of employer brand as a non-revenue generating (albeit important) line item on their budget and start thinking of it as an active contributor to their bottom line. It is a direct driver of growth and profit and as such, it should have a seat at the executive table without question.

A dawning realization

Revenue is of paramount importance, but without the ability to attract, engage, and retain top talent, I think most would agree it’s hard to generate revenue. Whether it sits within the brand and marketing organization or within HR, employer brand’s remit has always been to attract talent. But many leaders often take a very narrow-minded view of that. Because talent attraction and retention are so often mischaracterized as a recruiting problem or not formally a part of the CHRO’s or CMO’s remit, employer brand doesn’t always have strong representation or a voice at the highest levels of an organization.

This is what leaders are finally realizing – that the ability to attract talent is indeed very much tied to revenue.

In a 2017 study conducted by CareerArc, 96% of companies believe employer brand and reputation can positively or negatively impact revenue, but less than half (44%) monitor that impact. You know it, I know it, my Boxer mix Atticus knows it: what gets measured gets resourced and what gets resourced gets done. Recognizing employer brand not simply as a cost but as a vital driver of revenue at the C-level is crucial. Most think of employer brand simply as a talent attraction driver, with retention being the responsibility of hiring and culture managers. My response is that tracking and measurement of employer brand at the C-level can be an early warning signal for those kinds of problems.

Turning vices to virtue

The pandemic put so many limitations on workplaces – everything from where we could work to whether we could travel and so on. In the process, we learned we could do amazing things virtually, which is far kinder to the environment and to managing both work and life commitments, so old-school perks like international travel aren’t the drawcards they once were. And because everyone had to adapt to remote working, those kinds of benefits are just table stakes at this point.

Candidates aren’t just ticking through a list of benefits and perks or taking the highest offer these days.

They’re taking time to dig deeper into exactly why they’d want to work somewhere, and what it would feel like to be a part of a particular organization. It’s such a radical shift over so short a period that many employers are finding they need to look inward to be able to communicate externally.

Candidates are asking incisive questions about company values, and saying things like “I want to work a reduced schedule, so it really has to be the right opportunity to take a new role” or “does leadership value clients above the well-being of their people?” People have learned what they really want over the last two years and it’s time to embrace these things that forever changed how people want to work. Companies should be turning those vices into virtues, and employer brand is uniquely qualified to moderate that conversation.

Clearing a space for employer brand at the executive table

Too often, employer brand has been relegated to the side. It’s been partially somewhere on the CHRO’s agenda, partially somewhere on the CMO’s agenda and in both cases often not properly understood nor resourced. However, its impact can be felt far and wide across a business. It ties into goals like diversity, inclusiveness, employee engagement and other elements of the EVP and broader business strategy – all markers of corporate success in our modern climate, as much as sales revenue, reputation, and operating margins.

In addition to obvious benefits like reducing recruiting costs and improving the quality of hire, employer brand can play a crucial role in helping to direct company investment. Sitting where it does between Talent and Brand/Marketing and when tracked at the C-level, employer brand metrics can help companies more effectively target resources across talent programs like L&D, mobility, performance management – because employer brand is not just an external exercise.

Articulating your employer brand is also about telling your existing employee community who you are too; and giving people compelling reasons to stay.

Similarly, CMOs rely on sophisticated data and analytics to understand the effectiveness of their marketing efforts and the changing needs of consumers so that they can adjust marketing approaches accordingly. Employer brand can also help enhance corporate brand and reputation and contribute directly to profitability. Very often, the same people a company is trying to hire might also be customers or buying influences elsewhere. Their experiences as a candidate and perception of an organization’s employer reputation are directly tied to whether they want to do business with that organization.

My point is this: these are discussions that should be happening at the executive table, not just on the front lines of recruiting.

I’m so encouraged and heartened to see the increased focus on employer brand at the highest levels of leadership and only expect to see that continue. Employer brand practitioners are famously talented evangelists and I encourage them to take advantage of this moment in time to do what they can to create that space at the table, demonstrating the value to both Talent and Brand/Marketing.

We’ve long known that employer brand can make or break candidate journeys through the hiring process. But for the first time, there seems to be an awakening to the fact that this links back to the talent metrics and the overall brand metrics for which the CHRO and CMO are responsible – and with that, overall profitability. Workers everywhere – from interns to CEOs – are recalibrating how they think about work, and leadership is recalibrating how it thinks about employer brand. That’s a huge shift and a step in the right direction.

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