Employer Brand Management Amid Global Change, with Simon Barrow

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Regardless of the extent to which your business has been disrupted by COVID-19, we’ll all re-emerge from varying degrees of lockdown into a changing world. What does this mean for employer brand and its leaders?

We’ve explored tips for safeguarding the employee experience at the onset of the pandemic and strong leadership’s potential to shape public opinion. But what lies ahead for employer brand managers as we navigate a world reeling from the crisis? Simon Barrow, creator of the concept of employer brand, has a few predictions.

Barrow was a brand manager and advertising CEO before he got the idea to adapt brand management to the more people-centered work of HR. Today, his work in employer brand has had a profound effect on business around the globe. Here’s what lies ahead, in his view, for employer brand managers.

Your Company Will Be Judged for Its Crisis Response

When asked about employer brand’s importance right now, Barrow’s answer is blunt: “It’s in times of trouble that it matters most.” Employees and consumers alike expect superlative leadership and sensitive messaging during this period of crisis. Missteps will have a lingering impact on a brand’s reputation more so than they might during business-as-usual, and employer brand managers can’t afford an oversight.

As employment slumps, all eyes are on who is making lay-offs and how. That “how,” Barrow points out, is critical. Former employees of Bird made no secret of how they felt about the insensitive one-way Zoom firing they received in March, while Airbnb was lauded for the “alumni talent directory” it created to connect laid-off staff with new jobs.

Transparency remains key. Are members of senior management still earning what they were pre-COVID? Are employees being let go at all levels of an organization, or just those lower on the ladder? Whatever a brand’s answers to these questions, it must be prepared to stand behind them.

How and Where We Work Will Change, Post-Pandemic

The forced transition to working from home awakened many businesses to the feasibility (and, in some cases, benefits) of a remote workforce, as well as its limits. A post-COVID world may see more teams working from home by choice, but Barrow says, “I don’t think the office is dead by any means. It’s such a source of teamwork—of creativity.”

Weathering a crisis has also blurred the divide between our personal and professional lives and the selves we bring to each. New and important questions for business leaders and employer brand managers, Barrow says, will include, “How can we be human beings at work?” and “Where is kindness?” Though these “soft skill”-related questions may be sidelined for seeming “soft and fuzzy,” they hold the keys to preserving a positive employee experience.

Purpose Will Become All-Important to Employer Brand

According to 2020’s Edelman Trust Barometer, an overwhelming majority of consumers base their trust in a brand on what it contributes to society and its role in building a better world. That purpose, Barrow reminds us, is impossible to “spin” when it comes to the employer brand.

“What really matters at work?” he invites us to ask. Recognition and trustworthy management continue to be vital, but increasingly, so does the knowledge that your work is making a positive impact on the globe.

Barrow also foresees that a dedication to bettering society will remain critical long after the pandemic subsides. Addressing climate change, he predicts, will be another proving ground for businesses and their employer brand leaders.

Weathering these changes demands engaged and passionate leadership. When so much lies outside our control, management’s duty is to remain sensitive to their organization’s immediate needs while prioritizing the long view—a post-pandemic working world.

For more from Simon Barrow, read The Employer Brand: Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work. You can also hear his previous appearance on the Employer Branding Podcast and follow his work on LinkedIn. For more help identifying the values and culture you want to create in your company and refining your employer value proposition, reach out to us.


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