How HR can impact the employer brand during the COVID-19 crisis?

An employer’s brand value is a unique proposition that they offer to their employees. In other words, it is the company’s reputation in the eyes of a job seeker. A positive employer brand perception is a powerful force that can attract the best talent to the organization and help it to drive its business forward. This perception of the employer resides in the minds of the former, current, and future employees. Because it directly impacts the quality of the organisational workforce, the human resource department plays an active role in creating a positive employer brand for an organization.

The relevance of employer branding for organizations

Given the impact employer branding has on prospective employees, major organizations across the globe spend time and money in creating a positive image for their brand. Studies corroborate this fact as well. According to a LinkedIn study, businesses that have a robust employer brand have a 31% chance of a reply from the candidates when they are approached on the LinkedIn platform. This shows how a positive disposition for a brand can impact the company’s chance of attracting prospective employees. In fact, the same study also revealed that there was a 43% decrease in the cost per hire for organizations with a strong employer brand.

Clearly, employer brand is a crucial function for hiring. As custodians of workforce hiring and retention, human resource professionals are intuitively the best fit for promoting employer branding efforts. In the current scenario when the work landscape has undergone a tectonic shift and uncertainty looms large, it is especially important for HR teams to take steps that create a positive impact on employer branding efforts.

How can HR managers impact employer branding during the COVID-19 crisis?

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, employees are going through uncertain times and they look forward to receiving emotional and financial reassurances from their employers. As the COVID-19 crisis can impact the employees’ physical and mental health, making provisions to take care of both of these aspects will not only help the employees but also position the employer brand positively.

The HR team can proactively respond to this pandemic and can create a positive perception in the minds of its potential and current candidates. How they handle the crisis will impact how they attract high-quality talent in future and retain existing employees. It will also give the potential candidates a peek into the organizational culture and values. Therefore, it is crucial that HR takes a lead in this scenario. Let us look at some of the ways in which human resource professionals can impact employer branding during this crisis –

Using social media to connect

Social distancing has resulted in more and more people turning towards social media to share opinions and express their feelings. During this time, HR managers can utilise social media to engage with them through relevant content. They can focus on creating a digital presence by updating their websites and social media pages to convey job vacancies to prospective candidates. They can also provide information on the employee initiatives undertaken by the company to help them at this time. For example, Amazon’s blog gives regular updates on how they are responding to the crisis with activities such as rewarding its frontline employees, introducing social distancing during deliveries and ensuring fair pricing for customers during this time.

Supporting temporarily laid-off or furloughed employees

Industries such as airlines, retail, and hospitality took a sharp hit due to the pandemic. As a result, many of their employees were asked to take a leave without pay or temporarily laid-off. It also included contractual staff who were left without a job when their place of work closed. Some organizations have helped their laid-off employees find jobs in other sectors where there was a sudden spike in demand for workforce. One of them is the food aggregator Swiggy which laid-off 1100 of its employees recently and is now finding them jobs in other companies. This proactive approach of outplacing the laid-off employees shows the company’s deep commitment to the well-being of the workforce, even when they no longer work for the company.

In addition to the aforementioned steps, HR managers can also showcase the organizational commitment to their furloughed or laid-off employees by keeping the channels of communication open. Also, they should be updated on issues that they are concerned about. This will bolster a sense of transparency and trust within the company.

Protecting employees’ financial, physical, and mental well-being

With several companies suspending promotions and hikes and even cutting salaries, there is a significant financial strain on many employees. But even in this scenario, there were companies that chose to honour the financial commitment they made to their employees. For example, Tesco Bengaluru, the global technology services arm of UK based Tesco, has continued to roll out its promised job offers, annual promotions, and hikes to its employees. The company works on solutions for the retail industry – an industry hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

To keep employees motivated, the top leadership of business groups such as Tata Sons have led the way by taking pay cuts themselves. This is an apt example of how organizations can show that they are willing to sacrifice for them. When cost-cutting is imminent, HR teams can work towards a plan that avoids hurting the frontline employees as the top brass can better afford to take the same financial hit.

Similarly, HR can create financial assistance programs to employees in need. For example, mining company Vedanta has set aside Rs 100 crore to support its daily wage and contractual workers. Imagine the vote of confidence the company would get from its workforce by this act of support at difficult times.

Similarly, safeguarding the physical and mental health of onsite employees is a rudimentary task that HR teams can undertake at this time. Companies can think of providing them with protective gear, offering psychological counselling, and conducting regular health monitoring at work. For instance, companies like Medanta are running psychological counselling helplines for remote employees. Organizations such as Flipkart have introduced informal ‘digital chai breaks’ for their employees as an opportunity to chat with work friends. They also encourage employees to bring their kids to greet colleagues on video meetings to keep them in good spirits. All of these mental health initiatives provide employees with relief as well as enhance the employer brand.

Recognising extraordinary efforts by employees

Sectors like e-commerce saw a major upsurge in demand due to the lockdown. This led to e-commerce organizations such as Amazon and Big Basket exerting more workload on their frontline employees. Frontline employees in essential services have put themselves at risk to deliver essential services to the customers. Such an extraordinary work ethic deserves recognition. Which is why companies like Amazon are rewarding its frontline employees and partners across the globe with a $500 million ‘thank you bonus’.

HR managers can create reward and recognition programs such as monetary bonuses or enhanced perks to employees. For instance, ICICI Bank has given a salary hike of up to 8% to 80,000 employees working during the pandemic. Capgemini has announced salary hikes for its India employees. IT major Cognizant has increased the basic pay of two-third of its employees in India, by 20%.  

The coronavirus pandemic has forced most employees to work from their homes. They are juggling work and home responsibilities while living with uncertainty with regard to their and their loved one’s safety. Organizations need to create an environment of understanding and motivation for the employees. This means taking care of their health and financial needs. Alleviating such concerns will help employees focus on their work better and tide through any negative thoughts.

A crisis is an opportunity to achieve more. At this time when employees need support and understanding, organizations and their HR managers can prove their commitment to the employees’ wellbeing. This will help the workforce stay happy and motivated, leading to positive word-of-mouth publicity further enhancing the employer brand image. A reputable employer brand has a ripple effect as it attracts better talent, reduces the hiring costs, and improves productivity. With so much at stake, focusing on employer brand is crucial for HR managers during the current crisis.

 

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