Employers need to attract and retain the best talent regardless of (or specifically because of) business performance. Talent and staff that is best fit with the culture and unique needs of the company. Whether during times of growth, or when results are lackluster, and especially during challenging times to get a business back on track.

Critical to attracting potential employees best fit for the employer’s culture, as well as reinforcing and fortifying commitment and fit with existing employees, is a company’s employer brand. Executives often default to emphasizing portraying a “positive” employer brand, and highlighting the often table-stakes perks a company may offer, sometimes missing this focus on transparency and authenticity. But what truly helps advance a company is finding the right people, who are fit with the business’s culture and unique needs. And once these people are on staff, retaining them through empowerment and a sense of ownership and pride in their results. In the end, overly trying to polish an employer brand may result in bringing in people who may not thrive in or tolerate the company’s culture or different business situations.

We recently spoke with Alex Her, an employer branding expert, about what it takes to create and maintain a positive, authentic and transparent employer brand. Her, who in addition to being an employer branding expert, active practitioner and frequent speaker on employer branding, is also the Co-founder of The EB Space, a global community for employer brand and recruitment marketers to discuss all things employer brand.

Tip #1: Cultivate a Culture of Ownership

As the saying goes, “A company is as good as its people.” Alex Her reinforces this notion by stating, “everyone plays a part in reputation management. While employer branding teams almost always manage the reputation sites, we don’t influence the experience that a teammate is giving that would influence their view of a company” A positive employer brand starts from within. It’s not just about crafting a catchy message; it’s about empowering every employee, across all levels and departments, to contribute to a positive work environment. This means fostering a culture of ownership, where employees feel responsible for the company’s success and reputation. “That comes down to senior leadership, benefits, support, internal mobility, and direct managers or supervisors…. There has to be a willingness from the top down to provide employees with a supportive and flexible work environment.”

Here’s how to cultivate a culture of ownership:

  • Empowerment: Provide employees with opportunities to take ownership of projects, make decisions, and solve problems. This fosters a sense of agency and investment in the company’s success.
  • Recognition: Recognize and celebrate employee contributions, big and small. Public recognition shows employees their work is valued and motivates them to continue exceeding expectations.
  • Transparency: Be open and honest with your employees about the company’s goals, challenges, and successes. Transparency builds trust, fosters a sense of community, and allows employees to understand how their roles contribute to the bigger picture.

Tip #2: Embrace Self-Awareness

Authenticity is the cornerstone of a strong employer brand. But how can you ensure your employer brand reflects the actual employee experience? Her emphasizes self-reflection: “If expectations aren’t being met, you have to sit down and really dissect things. You can’t keep selling people on an experience they clearly aren’t and won’t be receiving.”

Here are some strategies to practice self-awareness regarding your employer brand:

  • Employee Surveys: Conduct regular employee surveys to gauge satisfaction with various aspects of the work environment, including compensation, benefits, work-life balance, and career development opportunities.
  • Exit Interviews: Exit interviews offer valuable insights into why employees leave. Use this information to identify areas for improvement and ensure your employer brand aligns with reality. Importantly, ensure that they are summarized and communicated with the executive team.
  • Social Listening: Monitor social media mentions and reviews of your company, both positive and negative. This can help identify discrepancies between your employer brand messaging and the employee experience.

Tip #3: Prioritize Employee Well-being

Happy employees are your best brand ambassadors. As Alex Her says, “Teammates will naturally be ambassadors or work to stay committed to a company if they’re treated well and supported. It’s really just that simple. Treat people right, help them grow, and they’ll be your biggest asset.” Invest in employee well-being, both physically and mentally, and through total rewards packages, to create a work environment that fosters loyalty and advocacy.

Here are some things you can do to prioritize employee well-being:

  • Competitive Compensation and Benefits: Offer competitive salaries, benefits packages, and perks that demonstrate your commitment to employee well-being. This includes healthcare, retirement savings plans, and wellness programs. Additionally, for involuntary separations, offer competitive severance packages (including outplacement) to confirm a commitment to departing employees.
  • Work-Life Balance: Promote a healthy work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, generous vacation policies, and programs that support employee well-being outside of work, such as childcare assistance or gym memberships.
  • Professional Development: Invest in your employees’ professional development by offering training opportunities, mentorship programs, and tuition reimbursement. This shows you value their growth and empowers them to excel in their careers.

Tip #4: Leverage Employee Advocacy

Your employees are your most powerful brand ambassadors. They may share both positive and negative sentiment about a company. A company needs to embrace this, to identify the highlights and to find areas to improve. This is the foundation for authenticity and transparency. Her notes: “Teammates who share their opinions (good or bad), have to be motivated by something. It can be a simple feeling of wanting to share why they love working at company ABCD, or if they’re upset and wanting to leave a bad review to vent out their frustrations.” By empowering and encouraging employees to share their positive experiences, and acknowledging and responding to any negatives or criticism, you can amplify your employer brand message and reach a wider audience of potential best-fit candidates and reinforce fit with existing teammates.

Here are some ways to leverage employee advocacy:

  • Employee Engagement Programs: Develop programs that encourage employees to share experiences about your company culture and work environment on social media or professional networking platforms like LinkedIn.
  • Employee Referral Programs: Offer incentives for employees to refer qualified candidates from their networks. This leverages their existing relationships and taps into their knowledge of the company culture.
  • Employee Recognition Programs: Recognize and celebrate employees who actively contribute to the positives within company culture. This reinforces the desired behavior and motivates others to participate.

Ultimately, to create and maintain a positive employer brand, a business and its leadership needs to embrace transparency. This creates authenticity, which in turn establishes believability. In the end, candidates will find out what it’s truly like to work at a company, whether through hints throughout the interview process or if they become employees. If it’s tough, they’ll need to know that in advance, or they won’t stay. And for current employees, to retain best-fit staff, employers need acknowledge the current culture and business environment, focusing on transparently communicating both challenges and goals, giving credit and recognition for success, and taking ownership of opportunities to improve. After all, if the employer brand or company culture is not what the company wants it to be, don’t try to whitewash it, but instead treat this as an opportunity address and adapt it.

Alex Her is an employer branding expert. In addition to being an active practitioner, Her is a frequent speaker and presenter, recently a keynote speaker at HR days and has appeared frequently on many podcasts. Her has been named the 2022 Talent Brand Leader of the Year by Talent Brand Alliance, and a “Top 10 Employer Branding Experts to Follow” (by EditMate). Her is also the Co-founder of The EB Space, a global community for employer brand and recruitment marketers to discuss all things employer brand.