Not long ago, I was talking to a CEO about what makes an employer attractive to top talent.
He asked if I had read the new study by Stepstone and Identifire. The takeaway of the study according to him; employees don't care so much about salary anymore. Instead, the focus should be on a positive work environment and flexible work hours. That's supposedly how to win over the best in the game.
I had to knock him down a notch. Whilst those factors are crucial, I let him know that at the end of the day, he still has to pay competitive wages to make his employees happy.
This conversation highlighted how studies about what makes an employer attractive can often be misinterpreted rather easily, for example where certain findings are too heavily relied upon, without thinking about the wider context of your business and its roles.
Why Studies Don't Have All the Answers
The introduction's anecdote shows that the problem isn't about the data, but how companies interpret it.
First, often the whole idea about what makes an employer attractive comes from reading one study or survey.
This is troubling because not all studies and surveys come to the same conclusion, and importantly not all studies are statistically significant (but instead subjective/anecdotal). The way these studies are conducted, the industry, and the demographics of the participants play a great role in the outcome. Due to those changing factors, the ranking of the attractive employer attributes differs from study to study.
Second, the studies leave room for multiple interpretations. According to a study done by Stepstone, just 35% of the participants consider an appropriate salary to be important. But what they consider an "appropriate" salary is open to question.
It's safe to say that top specialists know their worth and won't let themselves be hired for any less, even if money isn't their top priority.
And third, people don't know what they really want. Just 11% of the participants identify recognition and praise as one of their top three criteria of an attractive employer.
Imagine yourself from now on only criticising your employees and never praising them again. Do you think that nine out of ten would continue to work happily for you?
Probably not. The expectation of praise and recognition is so deeply rooted that no one pays any special attention to it anymore. It has become a subconscious expectation.
8 Basis Criteria of an Attractive Employer
Despite our warning to not take studies at face value, they give us important insights into the needs of employees—if we read them correctly.
Many see those needs as the final criteria for an attractive employer. However, we treat them just as the basis on which we have to build our deep employer brand.
So, before your company can take the important step towards deep employer branding, you must meet the following eight criteria:
1. Positive Work Environment
A positive work environment is essential. A day at work shouldn't feel like a competition with your work-mates. If everybody pulls in the same direction, the company itself will see better results.
A positive work environment means that employees lift each other up and work together towards a common goal. Everyone helps each other to fulfill their full potential.
What makes a positive work environment:
- Set goals for the whole team. Companies often pit their employees against each other, hoping to stimulate their combative spirit. The truth is, this method only puts a wedge between the team members and prevents good cooperation.
- Foster ideas. If someone brings an idea to you, praise them for it, even if the idea is not feasible. Your employees will feel encouraged to bring more ideas to you. Perhaps, one of your employees* will strike gold.
- Organise team events. Your team should get along not only on a professional but also on a personal level. It doesn't always have to be a professionally organised team-building event. A simple invitation to after-work drinks is enough to weld the team together.
2. Effective Communication
A lack of communication is a well-known problem in our private lives. Daily business life makes communication even more difficult. There are clear hierarchies, constant performance pressures, and inevitably you are not always going to be interacting with people you like.
This is why companies have to promote good communication. It's the only way to tackle problems at their root. If no one dares to comment on a company's problems, it's impossible to do anything about it.
How to foster effective communication:
- Schedule feedback sessions. Your employees want to know where they stand. What is going well? What can they improve? What opportunities do they have? In these feedback sessions, also be open to praise and criticism from your employees about the company.
- Praise often. We take good work for granted, while we notice mistakes immediately. As a result, we criticise our employees* more often than we praise them, which reduces their self-esteem.
- Be transparent. Seek regular contact with your employees and communicate goals, changes, and why they happen.
3. A Fair Salary
The desire for a fair salary is on average ranked fifth in surveys and studies. But no top talent who knows their worth would work for peanuts.
That doesn't mean you have to pay the highest salary in the industry to attract the best job seekers. It simply means that you have to pay a salary that is competitive, fair, and satisfying.
How you can pay a fair salary:
- Listen to your job candidates. If you lose potential employees to the competition again and again, ask them why they decided to join your competitor. If the problem is with pay, you may have to offer more in the future.
- Introduce bonuses. If you offer a comparatively low salary, you may be able to make yourself attractive again with the prospect of a bonus for good (team) performance.
- Offer additional benefits. Employees are increasingly placing value on additional benefits like a fitness subscription, in-house childcare services, and public transport tickets. With such benefits, your employees can save money, while your expenses remain low due to mass purchasing.
4. Job Security
Since the outbreak of COVID, a secure workplace has moved to the top of the rankings. But even before that, job security was an important criterion of an attractive employer.
A secure job means not only a steady job but also a financially strong company. If the whole company has to close its doors, even a job that is usually steady is of no use.
What you have to do to provide job security:
- Let the numbers speak. Don't hide the financial situation of your company. Transparency promotes trust and engagement of your employees.
- Plan ahead. Of course, nobody could have predicted the pandemic. Nonetheless, having various emergency plans and financial reserves makes sense and also promotes confidence in the company.
- Readjust your company culture. Don't make your employees feel that they are easily interchangeable. Show your appreciation and treat them as an important part of your company.
5. Freedom in the Workplace
Employees need freedom to reach their full potential. They have to be able to make their own decisions and feel secure in doing so.
If someone is looking over your shoulder all day, it quickly becomes unpleasant. Nobody likes to be constantly monitored.
How to leave freedom in the workplace without worrying:
- Promote independence. Your employees should be able to work as much as possible on their own. If you revise every presentation and turn over every stone laid, it leads to inefficiency and employees who feel like they are treated like children.
- Set clear guidelines. More freedom means more responsibility. It's important to set clear boundaries with which you and your employees feel comfortable.
- Offer support. Even if your employees can work independently, it helps if they know that you stand by their side in case of possible problems. That is what separates top-tier management from the rest.
6. Work-Life Balance
Thanks to advancing automation and instant worldwide communication via the Internet, the days of the 9–5 job are over. Instead of leaving important documents on the supervisor's desk, we email. Video chat software replaces physical meetings, and various programs automate the work that previously only people could do.
Despite this progress, little has changed in terms of working hours and locations.
You need to promote a healthy work-life balance because balanced employees are more productive, less stressed, and happier at work.
How you promote a healthy work-life balance:
- Introduce flexible working time models. Some jobs have attendance times. The telephone must be guarded, and customers must be welcomed. However, try granting those employees without such time-restricted responsibilities the room for setting their hours themselves. Everyone knows at what time she or he does the best work.
- Experiment with remote work. COVID has shown us how well remote work and home office is doable. Employees who can choose where they want to work are happier and more productive!
- Check your employees' workload regularly. Sometimes employees overestimate themselves, which leads to excessively long working days and dissatisfaction. Check regularly that all work is well distributed and help redistribute it if necessary.
7. Offer Training
Instead of investing in new office equipment and extensive catering, use your financial resources for training and further education of your employees.
Anyone trying to save money here is only harming themselves.
An investment in the knowledge and skills of your specialists is always worthwhile and pays dividends down the track.
How you offer the right training:
- Communicate the offer. Do your employees know that you finance certain training and further education? Remind them of this offer and talk about it regularly in staff meetings.
- Help to find the ideal training. Sometimes your employees don't know what to specialise in and often have other priorities than looking for the next training. Help these employees by suggesting suitable training.
- Treat training as working time. Sometimes it's not the finances that keep us from attending training, but the free time we have to invest. Make it easy for your employees and offer training and further education on working hours.
8. Career Opportunities
Most workers want more than just a safe job. They want a progressing career. Employment at entry-level is only the start, not the goal.
If you don't offer your top specialists proper promotion opportunities, they will look elsewhere for them.
The right way to deal with promotion opportunities:
- Define the criteria for promotions. Your employees need to know what it takes to get promoted. In regular meetings, you can define criteria and goals for promotion together and evaluate progress.
- Don't make false promises. If you promise your employees every year that a promotion beckons soon, but you never fulfill this promise, you destroy any existing trust. This can lead up to losing your employee to the competition.
- Nurture talent. Sometimes your top workers are not in the position they should be in. There can be various reasons for this, such as a lack of self-confidence on the employee's part. If you see an employee with leadership qualities, talk to him or her about a promotion.
Once you meet these eight criteria, you will be widely considered an attractive employer. However, don't rest on your laurels. These criteria just form the basis on which you build a deep employer brand. And that's what takes you to the next level.
Deep Employer Branding
Employer branding is how your company is perceived as an employer by employees and candidates.
The term 'branding' comes from marketing and means the development of a brand. Many people imagine a great logo and a modern website to be branding. But branding should go deeper. Branding should arouse emotions and build a connection to the customer through shared dreams and ethical goals.
To distinguish this kind of branding from superficial branding, we use the term deep branding.
We can apply the same philosophy to employer branding. This way of thinking is tremendously important because instead of just meeting the basic criteria mentioned above, you arouse emotions and create a deep connection with your candidate. This is what makes top employers stand out from the crowd, and what beckons top-talent to not only apply, but compete for roles.
To take the first step in the direction of deep branding, ask yourself the following three questions as an employer:
What Do You Stand For?
We all want a meaningful life. Many are afraid of investing too much time in a career that brings nothing but money.
This is why companies today have to define their purpose and mission and operate accordingly.
Let's take PALTRON as an example: Our mission is to forge connections between tech expertise and digital ideas to collectively shape the IT that enables innovation. People with the same goal—innovative IT that produces world-changing technologies—will find meaning and significance in their work with us.
Another prime example is SoulCycle. This boutique fitness studio has made it its mission to make fitness fun and use exercise as an outlet for stress reduction and community contact.
SoulCycle lives out this mission by offering free SoulCycle classes to all employees.
You too should think about what you want to stand for. People with the same goals as yours will find meaning in working for your company and see themselves as more than just employees.
How Convincing Are You?
Once you have found your mission, you need to behave accordingly. Your products, your communication, and your interaction with staff and customers need to reflect your mission.
If SoulCycle, as a fitness studio, were to offer a subscription to the cinema instead of free fitness classes, it would obviously all be a charade.
You will only attract the right talent if you are convincing and back your mission with your actions.
What Benefits Do You Offer Employees?
What can you offer your employees that no other employer in your industry can? Perhaps you have the best training programme? Or the most interesting customers? Something sets you apart from your competitors. You have to find that something and put it into words.
Let this example from Accenture inspire you:
"Innovate with leading-edge technologies on some of the coolest projects you can imagine. And get the tools you need to keep learning and growing, so you stay continually ahead of the game while making a difference in the world."
The next time you read a study or survey on 'What makes an attractive employer', you will know what to look out for.
If you want to bring change into your company, start with our 8-point checklist for a solid foundation.
Only if you meet these eight criteria, you can take the first step towards the next level: deep employer branding.
We wish you success!