We already know that the labour market is changing. In the first two articles of this series, we highlighted how local performance and country-level reactions to the pandemic will greatly influence where globally mobile employees choose to live. From one generation to the next, it has become easier to imagine building careers in another country or culture, so this labour market phenomenon induced by the pandemic will be a significant factor in the future. The current situation brings back an old friend of HR professionals, one they suffered before the pandemic. Back then, mitigating employee turnover was the task at hand, focus, while now, the focus is on acquiring new, long-term professionals. Welcome to the revival of employer branding.
Changing employer reputations, by generation
A company’s image has always had a significant effect on how easily they could attract suitable employees and the kind of efforts needed to keep them. Different factors influenced each generation. If we only take into consideration the last few generations, we can already see significant differences. For the members of the Diplomat Generation (born 1973-1984), the most important factor at the beginning of their careers was joining an international company and build their CVs with this experience. In most cases, they knew that there was a great deception behind this because somebody being the umpteenth nobody at a multinational company does not mean that they will become a good professional. However, the company’s name was an important factor in reaching the next level. Of course, some people learned to build a career within a given multinational company, and they became very diplomatic managers who knew all the tricks of their top management positions; what is more, they managed it in a short period. Then came the next generation, the Ambitionists (1985-1996), who perceived the world in a completely different way, especially the Diplomats generation’s career, and the rapid and effective progress of its members. What is more, the Diplomats were the most significant generation in the startup market as well. They appeared first and brought in that certain startup feeling, which did not only impress the next generations, but showed them a new possibility in career building. No wonder that Ambitionists thought it “cool” to work for a startup. The greatest talents rarely ended up at multinational companies because they did not want to be insignificant “cogs” in the machines of big organisations. CVs have transformed as well. The greatest prestige was the time spent at an internationally recognised startup, and headhunters treated professionals from multinational companies more carefully (potential employers were even warier). That is understandable because, in several cases, members of the Diplomat generation established companies, leaving behind multinational ones, and they knew the advantages and disadvantages of the multinational environment, so they did not really welcome the average “multinational cogs”. Companies tried to react to these advantages via employer branding. Startups did not really have to, as they were almost automatically in an advantageous situation compared to others. However, in the case of multinational and large local companies, their survival depended on their ability to show a new career path for employees, how they were not so dull, and how they fostered intellectual liberty.
The challenge of 2021
The new task has arrived: the standard list of employee needs has been overwritten by the pandemic, and everybody is looking for a “new way to live”. People are looking for workplaces and work environments that meet the general expectations, but there is also a new need to keep their families safe without being fully withdrawn from socialising, not even for a year. They want to have a workplace where they feel good even if a fatal virus attacks humanity. The presence of fear is, of course, important and natural in a situation like this; however, managers that function well at the international level find it difficult to give up every social and economic possibility, often for reasons that make no sense. They have accurate information about this, and whether we like it or not, they have their own judgements about countries, states, and cities. We also know that they will mainly compare death rates and the measures connected to them; however, here comes one of the major challenges for companies: what should they do with this situation? Those operating in countries that are low on this list will definitely not discuss this topic, and there will be people who push that we should not attack or counterattack by discussing such data. However, is it acceptable for Israel, which has had one of the fastest and effective vaccination campaigns, to use this to their advantage? In this regard, the US is also near the front of the pack. Would it be appropriate if American companies brought it up as an argument when looking for the best professionals that “you should join us and start a new life because we managed to cope with even the biggest chaos”? Is one allowed to say such things? Is it humane? In reality, they would just be creating an objective picture in the minds of potential employees. What is more, it would be especially humane for the employees because they could make substantive, informed decisions regarding their futures. Of course, many would say that it would be condemnable and exploitative. It is also worth thinking about the phases of headhunting, recruitment, and employer branding where it would be the most tactical to share this information, but we might not have the guidelines for it yet. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: the HR profession will have to start dealing with it very soon because it can be the key factor in attracting new professionals and retaining current ones.