The Randstad Employer Branding Report (REBR) survey took place in January 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak was already holding China in its grip, but the global labour market was characterized by tightness.

Traditionally, this constitutes a good climate for employer branding. A vast majority of companies started to focus on employer branding after they found themselves struggling to fill their vacancies. 

In the meantime, our world has dramatically changed. The coronavirus has largely crippled the global economy and the labour market. The number of vacancies is in free fall, and many people are (temporarily) unemployed. A lot of companies are fighting to survive.

does it make any sense at all to think of employer branding in times like these? 

It is completely understandable that companies and organizations might have less attention, or maybe even no attention at all, to employer branding during this hectic period. First things first. In any case, the number of hires is going down dramatically during this time. And chances of talent leaving the company of their own accord, have suddenly become much smaller. However, there are three important reasons why employer branding shouldn't be ignored completely or for too long. 

Employer branding isn't just about recruitment and retention; it's also about engagement, and it's exactly this engagement that is severely tested at times like these. Whether companies will make it through this period, depends partially on the engagement of their employees. Anything that supports the engagement of the employees is important now. Employer branding is definitely one of those things.

What's more, employer branding is a process that requires time - a lot of time - to generate results. Consistency and coherence are the two key terms here. If you completely ignore employer branding during this entire period, you'll interrupt the process, which means you'll be forced to start building it up again from a lower level later on. Not to mention the loss of confidence and credibility as a result of unfulfilled promises.

Any company that wants to be strong at a time when the labour market is reshaping itself, simply can't allow itself to do anything about employer branding. And if original promises can't be fulfilled due to the pressure caused by the coronavirus, new, altered promises must be formulated and shared with employees. 

In conclusion, even at this early stage, it is clear that this crisis is going to have a very negative impact on companies' employer brands. We can't predict the total effect of the crisis while we're still in the middle of it, but we do know what happened during the previous major recession following the financial crisis of 2007-2008. 

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what can we learn from this period?

First of all, the criteria for choosing a certain company change, albeit not in a revolutionary way. In times of recession, job security gains importance and wages become less important. The importance of a good work atmosphere however, remains unchanged. 

The companies' attractiveness scores decline as well. In the 2008 Randstad Employer Branding Research for example, the winner in Belgium had an attractiveness score of 47%. A year later, after the crisis had hit, this had gone down to 43%. That was also the lowest winning score ever in the entire history of employer branding research.

By 2010, there weren't too many signs of recovery yet. The tide only began to turn in 2011. So, it will take some time for companies to recover from the current setback. 

As expected, the downturn was also reflected in the scores for the various criteria. The fact that job security decreased, won't come as a surprise. But the decline was also visible in other criteria (work atmosphere, wage, work/life balance, job content, future opportunities, attention for environment and society). Incidentally, the scores for most criteria were lower in 2009 than in 2003, during the recovery of the dot-com crisis. This suggests that the depth of the recession plays a role, too. The deeper the recession, the greater the damage to companies' employer brands.

All of this does not bode well for next year's employer brands. 

In conclusion: there's no getting away from the fact that this crisis is going to have a huge impact on companies' employer brands. Considering the nature of the crisis, it's probably going to be even worse than during previous recessions. Our prediction is that the strongest brands will prove the most resilient; they'll be able to limit the damage.

Companies that are going to ignore employer branding altogether now, and not give it any attention again until the economy and the labor market start to recover, will be the losers of tomorrow's labor market. We look forward to reconvening for the next study in 2021.

Are you interested in your organizations’ employer brand or your sector's employer branding in times of COVID-19, please visit our employer branding hub.

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