The world has changed—should your employer brand?

Insights from a roundtable with industry leaders

One of the (many) changes we’ve noticed this past year in conversations with our clients and other top companies is an increased focus on employer brand.

While this focus isn’t new—Sullivan has helped complex organizations across sectors develop employer brand strategies for years—we’ve noticed the dimensions that companies care about have shifted and expanded.

Before 2020, many of our conversations centered on one clear goal: the need to recruit. Specifically, companies were eager to build strong employer brands in order to recruit tech talent and to compete with the big tech players with well-advertised perks and benefits.

Now, companies have a more complicated set of needs. In addition to increased competition in recruitment, they’re worrying about everything from engaging employees and recruits around a higher purpose, to employee retention and satisfaction, to diversity (or lack thereof) of their workforce and corporate sustainability efforts.

With so many issues at play, it can be hard to know where to start. We hosted a roundtable of marketing and communications executives to share how marketing can be a driving force in answering top-of-mind questions like:

  • Do we need to refine our EVP as we return to the office to reflect the changes of the past year?
  • When benefits and perks are so similar, how do we communicate something unique about our brand and culture?
  • How does the cultural zeitgeist around purpose integrate authentically into our messaging?

To get to the bottom of these answers, we started by doing a little research. Using Relative Insight, the leading text analytics platform, Sullivan strategists compared language data across three areas.

First, we scanned Glassdoor and other popular employee review platforms and dug into the reviews of our roundtable participants’ companies. We compared reviews pre-Covid and now to see where shifts have occurred in how employees evaluate and speak about their workplaces. Then, we compared negative reviews to positive reviews to gauge the language employees tend to use. Finally, we compared the career sections of our participants’ websites to language in company reviews to understand if employees and employers were on the same page.

What we found was interesting. Since Covid, employee reviews were 15x more likely to mention “company culture,” and infinitely more likely to mention “overall experience.” They were 6x more likely to discuss themes of contentment and 1.6x more likely to focus on feelings of belonging. Clearly, culture and experience are top of mind for employees in ways that may have been more muted before. But what exactly is company culture? And what does it mean when your company can no longer provide snacks or laundry service? Does that change the way you need to talk about the value of your company as a workplace?

Fortunately, reviewers gave us a good window into what makes a good culture—and it’s deeper than just feeling good about where you work. We found that positive employee reviews are 7x more likely to mention innovation, 9x more likely to mention collaboration, 29x more likely to mention kindness, and infinitely more likely to mention mentorship. Genuinely delivering on these facets—through both day-to-day business practices and the teams that you build—will go farther than free food no matter where your employees are.

And it’s not just the spirit of your business and teams that matter. Increasingly, companies are being held accountable for creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce: employee reviews were infinitely more likely to mention inclusivity since Covid; it’s a theme that spreads across both positive and negative employee reviews. While many businesses may be hesitant to speak about D&I publicly, it’s become a key filter through which employees evaluate jobs. It would behoove companies to clarify and codify a stance that’s authentic to them.

Similarly, the cultural zeitgeist has forced companies to deepen their commitments to purpose, and the onus is on organizations to share their values more broadly and authentically. Company platitudes are no longer enough. Vague, high-level promises of “excellence” and “integrity,” while still prevalent in many corporate values statements, rarely show up in reviews of what employees actually value.

To be sure, having a strong employee value proposition is more important than ever. And that entails thoughtfully and uniquely communicating your purpose, your values, and the specific things employees can expect from the experience. It’s not enough to say it, either. You have to make sure you’re demonstrating your EVP across all recruiting and employee touchpoints, so that the promises you’re making are true to your company and felt by your most important asset: your employees.