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Why Citizenship Is Emerging as an Employer Brand Superpower

4 min read.



Employer Branding

Companies are waking up to the importance of employer branding. They’ve seen how competitors with strong employer brands attract great people, get better press, and win the loyalty of internal and external stakeholders.

Building a thriving, buzzworthy, anything-but-vanilla employer brand doesn’t happen easily, of course. But in a post-pandemic work landscape, it must happen urgently.

Understanding Citizenship in an Employer Brand

To design your employer brand correctly, you have to consider and craft the three supporting layers of reputation, expectation, and experience.

Most employer brands neglect to identify a specific reputation in the marketplace and settle for a default “best employer” target. This is not specific, informative, or remotely useful to anyone at all.

There are three potential strategic options employers have from a reputational perspective: These are career catalyst, culture, and citizenship.

Identifying which of these three core reputational directions suits your organization best will help you focus your employer brand reputation, bring specific clarity and simplicity, and add to its uniqueness in your field.

In other articles for this blog series, we’ve discussed how to identify and define the career catalyst and culture angles of your employer brand reputation. In this article, we’re going to concentrate on the third component: citizenship.

According to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the country’s largest living adult generation. When you think about that in the context of the past 18 months, is it any wonder that public reaction to global events has most definitely changed?

If we reflect on the rise of civil unrest, #BlackLivesMatter, and how organizations have been held to account for their wrongdoings toward employees in the most public and high-profile fashion, it seems reasonable to suggest that our priorities and shared values as a global society have changed (or clearly emerged). There is an incredible demand for more humanity that is changing how global organizations do business — for the better.

In short, your talented audience is demanding evidence of tangible citizenship. That said, it’s time to both listen and take action.

If you can forge a strong (authentically warranted) reputation as an employer for your global citizenship in the workplace, you will instantly become more relevant to a significant proportion of your talent audience.

Citizenship reflects your social convictions and the actions supporting them. For instance, citizenship involves how you impact and belong in your communities — as well as how your employees can impact and belong in those communities.

Many companies include diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as part of their citizenship positioning. These companies demonstrate a moral and ethical conviction to DEI, and they attract employees who are motivated to be a part of a company that cares about the equity of opportunity. That positioning pays off in ways that go beyond social impact.

McKinsey’s reporting shows that companies with diverse workforces are about 35% more likely to do better financially than their peers; in the same report, diversity is shown to spark innovation. Deloitte research agrees, finding a 30% improvement in quality control among diverse organizations.

Perhaps this is why 47% of Millennials seek companies with strong DEI positioning when changing careers. This is an element of citizenship in employer branding at work.

Ways to Establish and Grow Citizenship

Citizenship can be challenging to incorporate into your employer brand in an authentic way, but that integration is critical. Employers without strong, clear, and conscientious citizenship models that address social, political, and ethical convictions are bound to take brand reputation (and revenue) hits.

Look no further than Bird. When the electric scooter company’s CEO Travis VanderZanden fired people via text message during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was lambasted in the press.

The problem wasn’t that VanderZanden had to downsize his team; plenty of companies had to do that during the pandemic. It was the callous dismissal of employees that diminished Bird’s authenticity as an employer that valued citizenship.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky had to lay off thousands of people, too. But Chesky handled the process with grace, offering dignity and even job support assistance.

Airbnb showed its citizenship by handling a challenge with an approach that was consistent with its employer values. Bird hit the ground with a thud.

If you’re interested in strengthening citizenship as part of your employer brand strategy, keep three thoughts in mind:

  1. Modeling your citizenship starts with “story doing.”

Many people talk about the importance of storytelling when building a brand. But without “story doing,” the story is just fiction. You’ll want to make sure you’re not only manufacturing narratives but also living them.

An example: If you say you have empathy and compassion for people inside your organization, you have to back up your words with action. This could mean highlighting new supply chains to show you’re taking ethical sourcing of raw materials seriously. Or it could mean offering an uncommon employee benefit that might make a world of difference to a smaller number of people. It could simply mean having a political voice that drives away some and attracts others.

Whatever you do, just make sure your storytelling is more than a bunch of empty talk. Your audience is smart and only compelled by action, evidence, and real impact.

  1. Showcasing your citizenship to rising talent includes thoughtful job descriptions.

Citizenship is part of the first impression talent has about your brand. Often, that first impression is then judged and scrutinized when it comes to your job advertisements. 

Consider adding some aspects of your citizenship positioning to listed job responsibilities, benefits, and culture explanations to demonstrate the individual contributions people can make. Rather than just saying you’re committed to affecting climate change, show the initiatives you are currently undertaking. Tell stories about how your supply chain is controlled and measured based on ethical sourcing. Show how employees visit suppliers to approve working conditions

Rather than just saying that you want to be more diverse, include evidence of how you’re actively working toward your DEI goals. Better yet, be vulnerable enough to disclose current diversity metrics and talk about a conviction towards a tangible goal. Job hunters will be more likely to respect your position and believe that you mean it when you claim to stand for these aspects of citizenship.

  1. Letting current employees share their stories is a powerful tool.

Finally, as you spend time thinking about how to showcase citizenship in your organization for prospective employees, don’t forget about the power your current employees can have as part of that effort. Use social media to share employee stories and individual contributions toward citizenship.

Applicants and candidates love to see actual employees and hear their thoughts about citizenship in your company. It’s an authentic way to connect your promises of citizenship to the real human beings behind those promises.

Despite record levels of unemployment, it remains a buyer’s market out there. To ensure your brand stands out, you’ll have to prove that you’re making a difference, owning your authenticity, and believing in something important.

That’s citizenship in action, and it’s irresistible to people who crave a feeling of belonging at work — and the impact that can be made by their contributions toward your cause.

Want to learn more about creating an employer branding reputation strategy that encourages high-caliber performers to apply for your openings? Talk to Ph.Creative today by sending us a message at [email protected]. Remember to sign up for our Sprint Series, too.

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