Every company has its ebbs and flows, regardless of how hard leaders are working to support their teams. Layoffs, cutbacks, and shifting global priorities present challenges, but companies can come back stronger by focusing on their employer brand.
The employer brand is fueled by a set of values that drive decisions within a company. While perks and swanky office spaces often get lumped in as part of a brand, they're actually tools that support the brand. For example, a backup childcare allowance or onsite childcare is a perk, but the shared value is that work-life balance is essential. Free lunches are a perk, but togetherness is the shared value. Company retreats are a perk; open communication is the value.
Making that distinction is critical, because in tough times - when a company has to scale back or change perks - it can still maintain its core values. Focusing on those values is critical to reviving an employer brand after a setback.
Establishing (or re-establishing) your employer brand
Defining your employer brand should start with asking employees what motivates them to bring their best to the workplace every day. "It's quite simple. If you are not starting with the voice of your employees, you're not going to start on the right foot," said Kieran Layton, field people officer for McDonald's Corporation.
Ally Brown, brand manager for employer brand and recruiting at VCA Animal Hospitals, agreed, adding that it's important to "bring your stakeholders on the journey with you" because it gives people "the time to process and build your case for why that is a good strategy."
Be patient with the process, because it is complicated.
"This work can feel hard at times because you're coming in and saying 'I want to crystallize what it's like to work here and the types of people that we want to work here, both for those who are coming into the company and those who are already here and we're trying to retain,'" said Kelby Tansey, manager of recruitment marketing for Southwest Airlines.
Think of your employer brand as a living, evolving organism, and check in with your employees periodically to ensure that the values that are guiding your brand remain relevant. While a scrappy startup may be successful with a move-fast-and-break-things approach, that philosophy is unsustainable for a larger, more established organization.
As companies change, the employer brand must also evolve to reflect present-day realities.
Call it a comeback
There's no single, correct approach to reviving your employer brand after a setback. Often, it will depend on the type of setback your company has experienced. Let's consider three different scenarios and potential responses.
Together, from afar
"Togetherness" is one of the core values at JFrog. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and necessitated remote work, it jeopardized the company's sense of community. According to Pearlynn Dang, the company's senior manager of employer brand, employees responded by creating virtual coffee breaks (dedicated time to not talk about work) and common interest groups. "Once we came back, we doubled down on these activities for days we were in the office," she said. "All this happened while we were still figuring out what the new normal looks like."
If leaders want to encourage accountability, they have to lead by example. Take Stripe Inc. CEO Patrick Collison's approach, for example. In November 2022, Collison announced in a company-wide email that Stripe was laying off 14% of its staff. While several tech companies were concurrently managing significant headcount reductions, Collison accepted accountability for the move. In the email, he wrote, "We, the founders, made this decision. We overhired for the world we're in, and it pains us to be unable to deliver the experience that we hoped that those impacted would have at Stripe."
One of Stripe's brand values for leaders is "Make decisions, be accountable." By owning the headcount decision - and the events leading up to it - Collison demonstrated that Stripe leaders actively practice their values.
There's no denying that Microsoft lost ground to Apple and Google in the early 2000s after dominating the tech world at the end of the 20th century. Still, the company has continually returned to its core value of "innovation," and its efforts are now paying off. For example, thanks to an investment in ChatGPT, Microsoft is positioned to revolutionize the search space in the biggest overhaul to how users search the internet since the launch of Google.
Make your employer brand your North Star
Challenges can take on many forms - a pandemic, a recession, negative media attention - but if your company understands and adheres to its core values, you can rebuild employee confidence and revive your employer brand.
No employee is perfect and no company is perfect. There will be mistakes and missteps along the way. By centering your company's values and communicating how you plan to prioritize them, you can help your employer brand bounce back from a setback.
"My best advice is to be transparent," said Dang. "Talk to your employees, and the rest will follow."
You can bounce back. Get started on reviving your employer brand today with insights from our latest report.