The shortage of qualified personnel is pushing companies to diversify their recruitment strategies. To remain competitive and attract the best talent, it has become essential for them to enhance their "employer brand". Benedikt Hell, Professor of Personnel Psychology at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), explains.
The shortage of qualified labor in the Swiss job market is becoming increasingly severe, exacerbated by the pandemic and the aging population. According to a joint study conducted by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) and the consulting firm Great Place to Work, more than half of the surveyed companies reported difficulties in recruiting between 2020 and 2021. In addition, candidates are increasingly valuing a company's reputation, with half of them prioritizing this factor over a higher salary, according to a survey by the recruitment agency Randstad. Benedikt Hell, author of the study "Employer Branding in Schweizer Unternehmen" ("Employer Branding in Swiss Companies"), emphasizes the growing importance of this new strategic concept.
The concept of "employer branding" was already developed in the United States in the 1990s. Why is it so important today?
Benedikt Hell: The retirement of baby boomers implies a drying up of the labor market not only in Switzerland but also in neighboring countries, such as Germany and Italy. Although Swiss companies have been able to fill vacancies thanks to their very good working conditions, this is becoming increasingly difficult and is likely to become even more difficult in the coming years. As neighboring countries' labor markets will also be affected by demographic changes, companies will no longer be able to recruit their missing workforce from abroad as easily. Employers will have to develop new recruitment strategies to attract and retain the best talent.
In what way can employer branding help a company stand out from the competition?
Hell: The labor market has reversed. Today, it is candidates who choose their employer from among several possible options, rather than the other way around. In addition to remuneration, younger generations are increasingly attaching importance to a company's values – which they want to identify with – as well as working conditions such as flexible schedules or locations. Employer branding refers to a strategy that enables companies to meet these new requirements in order to position themselves in the long term as attractive employers in the labor market.
Your study revealed that one-third of the surveyed companies had a good employer branding positioning. How do you evaluate these results?
Hell: Professional employer branding is not yet very common in Switzerland. Many companies still use traditional recruitment methods and post-traditional job offers, hoping that qualified people will apply. This is a "post & pray" logic. However, it is no longer sufficient. Companies must adopt a proactive recruitment strategy (active sourcing) and seek contact with potential candidates. Nevertheless, I expect better results for the next study, which will be published in 2024. In Switzerland, human resources specialists are very well trained and very open to innovative solutions.
What are the necessary steps to develop a strong employer brand?
Hell: The first step is to conduct an analysis of the company's situation and highlight its strengths. In this context, employees can be a valuable help to evaluate different commitments transparently. An employer brand must reflect the reality of a company and present an authentic image. There is no point in idealizing the situation: contradictory messages or false promises are quickly detected and can discredit the company.
The second phase is to examine the strengths of competitors to then identify the specificities of the company, which will truly allow it to stand out. Finally, it will be a matter of formulating the most important values in a concise message in order to be able to use it as a means of communication. All these elements contribute to developing what is called the "employee value proposition" (EVP), i.e. the promise of a counterpart that employees or future employees receive from the company in exchange for their work.
Should the development of employer branding be exclusively the responsibility of the human resources department, or should it be part of a broader corporate strategy?
Hell: Employer branding should correspond to the company's overall strategy as well as its brand message for its products and services. For example, a company that emphasizes the sustainability of its products should also ensure that it implements these same values internally in order to remain consistent with its employees and customers.
Is such an investment also relevant for small businesses?
Hell: More and more sectors are affected by the shortage of qualified labor. In social or technical fields, some companies would simply no longer be able to recruit a sufficient number of employees without good personnel marketing. In this sense, the development of an employer brand is becoming increasingly standard. Moreover, certain studies clearly demonstrate the added value of a targeted employer brand. Therefore, the investment is worth it.