Is BS Destroying Your Employer Brand?
When thinking about the overarching challenges in the American hiring landscape, the most pernicious force is cynicism.
Cynicism, skepticism and distrust have become intertwined in every aspect of American life. We live at a time when truth is hard to decipher because the messenger is as important, if not more important, than the message itself. Where you get your information increasingly colors the information that you get.
Job seekers aren’t just cynical about job advertisements and employer messaging, they’re increasingly skeptical of all information. This distrust is woven into information from institutions, even those institutions that have historically been perceived as trusted sources of truth. Multiple studies have reported that only 50% of the American public believe that universities have a positive effect on the United States, while 61% of Americans surveyed believe that the media intentionally ignores stories and withholds information that could be useful to the public.
While there is variance between respondents who identify as Republicans or Democrats, these larger truths are bipartisan. The less Americans agree on a shared reality, the less information we trust at all. At a time when traditional media is in decline, PR teams are seen as even more crucial – the most recent US census data shows that there are now six PR specialists in the US for every one journalist. Americans are increasingly in disagreement on whether to even trust journalists.
These overarching themes form the backdrop to the current job market, where knowledge-workers have the upper hand, and less highly skilled roles have increased choice and power. So, who do people reliably trust? Their friends and family, or current employees at a company: employee referrals. What helps solidify that trust? When a candidate sees the same truth shared by their network displayed back at them by the company itself: authenticity, and the connection to an authentic Employer Brand.
In a landscape devoid of authenticity, an oasis of reality can be refreshing and comforting. Talent candidates are smart and have more varied ways to investigate a company than ever before. Candidates have learned not to trust corporate exaggerations, hollow platitudes or vague declarations that “we are the best.”
Job seekers have heard enough spurious PR statements about social justice, environmentalism and ambitious Diversity, Equity & Inclusion goals. So often, it feels fake. So often, it is fake. Exaggeration about these topics makes everything else the company shares less trustworthy, too. It may be better to hear nothing at all than something synthetic or obviously untrue.
When a large public company opines that “our employees come first,” the response from said employees – as well as the wider world – should not be a collective eye-roll but a nod in agreement. There should be no implicit lie behind the brag, as if the second half is whispered under their breath: “our employees come first… after our investors and shareholders.”
If cynicism continues to increase, the circle of trust further narrows to friends, colleagues and an increasingly small network. But it doesn't need to be that way.
The ability to make organic connections – to trust one another – is directly related to a country’s entrepreneurship, organization and ability to initiate positive change. As researched by Ortiz-Ospina and Roser, countries with high levels of social trust see greater levels of economic prosperity, with the reverse true of countries with lower social trust.
Corporations must make it clear to their audience that they share a common set of values, language, and outlook. They must show that they not only have a unique identity and governing values, but also a desire to include candidates in their mission as well.
Smart companies have realized the need for employees to become trusted advocates, and for the company’s employer brand to authentically reflect that same truth. To be truly effective, an authentic employer brand will need to bolster that natural word of mouth with the same messages. This means companies will need to share not only the visionary goals but the actual working reality of their company. Companies will need to share hard truths, in addition to their bragging points.
How to Express Brand Authenticity
Curing the ills of US society might be a bit of a tall order, but companies can create employer brand authenticity and counter people’s tendency towards negativity and mistrust by:
- Being real and honest
- Consistently reflecting their culture
- Telling purposeful stories, demonstrating affinity, empathy and change
- Leading by example, matching those stories with actions
- Embracing and acting on feedback
- Communicating the same message through all leadership levels
- Being brave by sharing harsh realities too
Cynicism seems all pervading at times, but the cure-all is getting people to care. That’s what a good Employer Brand can do: it tempers cynicism and apathy. As we go into the future, companies will need to be more honest. They will need to be more creative. They need to share not just their benefits, but their hard truths and the realities of their culture. We’re starving for more authenticity, so give it to us.