Branding is something that many people believe is only a marketing concern. It's about fonts, images, and ad campaigns that drive the story of a business to create something cohesive that a buyer - or the general public - will associate with an organization.
While that's true for 'branding' overall, employer branding is quite different and has far more to do with how an organization operates instead of what messaging they decide to send out into the world.
Just like a reputation, employer branding takes a long time to build but can be lost in mere moments. And the biggest way an employer brand is tarnished is by having poor policies in place that impact staff members, meaning that employer brand is, for the most part, an HR concern.
This is especially important when it comes to offboarding - and even more important when employees are terminated involuntarily.
So let's dig into how HR can hold layoff events and RIFs without tarnishing their employer brand. First, though, let's have a brief discussion as to what an employer brand is and why it's important to maintain.
What Is an Employer Brand?
An employer brand is just like a normal brand. However, instead of being a forward facing initiative set in place by marketing, it's all about how employees at the organization feel about their workplace and how future talent feels about working there.
"An employer brand is an important part of the employee value proposition and is essentially what the organization communicates as its identity to both potential and current employees," reports the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
"It encompasses an organization’s mission, values, culture and personality. A positive employer brand communicates that the organization is a good employer and a great place to work."
To help understand this a bit more, here's an example. Let's take Google.
Google has been applauded for their unique culture for some time now. It's viewed, generally, as a good place to work not only because it is doing successfully in the marketplace. It also seems like a fun, energetic, and fulfilling place to be.
"The $75 billion tech titan is famous for luxe perks like free gourmet food, haircuts, and laundry services, of course. But it also takes a rigorous analytical approach to morale," reports Fortune Magazine, who has named Google the best place to work six times in a row.
"It boosted its parental-leave policies, for example, after finding that mothers were leaving at higher rates—the result was a 50% reduction in attrition for working moms."
Google, in other words, has a very strong employer brand. They are able to attract the best talent and retain them long into the future, making them able to continue putting out better products and services.
There are a ton of different things an organization can do to increase their employer brand - from offering perks and paid leave to hosting dinners and retreats - but that's not our focus here. Instead, we need to look at the other side of the coin: how poor offboarding practices can negatively impact employer brands.
Layoffs and RIFs: How to Protect Your Employer Brand
Layoffs and RIFs pose challenges at every turn. However, one of the biggest issues that goes unaddressed are how they can impact employer branding.
If an organization doesn't do everything in their power to make sure that employees are offboarded in the proper way, they can easily see their corporate/employer brand suffer.
The good news is that employers can actually maintain or even increase their brand by offering services like outplacement.
Outplacement is a service offered to those impacted by layoffs or RIFs that helps employees get back to work in a new role outside of the original company. It takes the stress out of finding new work by pairing those let go with great coaches and experts who write resumes - optimizing them to get passed Applicant Tracking Systems - and provide cutting-edge technologies to make the job hunt as easy as possible.
Besides the core impact of outplacement - helping your staff members make a transition to a new role - the service also shows the world, your staff member(s), and your retained staff members that you care enough about your employees that you want them to succeed even if they are exiting your organization.
This message is huge.
Poorly handled layoffs can cause ex-employees to turn against your organization, possibly causing an increased level of turnover and making future talent acquisition harder than ever before.
Outplacement, on the other hand, helps negate all of this.
How a Poor Layoff Event Can Damage Your Brand
Again, let's look at an example.
Say a company has to layoff 20 workers because of a budgeting issue. Pretty standard stuff in the business world, right?
Well, now imagine that the company does this right before the holidays, without notice, and doesn't even provide employees with a severance package because the employees in question were hourly workers.
Those 20 people are going to be very upset (rightfully so) and will, most likely, express those concerns on the internet, to friends, and to their old coworkers. This negativity then spreads like wildfire.
The retained staff members will wonder if they want to work for an organization that can treat their staff so badly. They'll wonder what would happen if they were the ones being let go.
At the same time, those online reviews can come back to haunt the company when they need to either rehire those same positions or even hire a higher level employee. No one wants to work for a business that only views their staff members as dollar signs.
Let's flip this around.
While a layoff is always stressful, if an organization plans properly and offers the right level of support, those impacted (and those retained) will be able to clearly see that the layoff was nothing personal and that the company truly cares if they land on their feet.
So our fictional company has the same 20 workers that need to be laid off. After trying every other possible move, a reduction is the only way to go.
Unless it's extremely dire, the company might want to wait until after the holiday season or at least alert the staff members now and hold the event after the holidays. The holidays are already stressful enough with a full salary coming in.
The company should also personally meet with employees and hold a layoff notification meeting where all of the details are expressed in clear language. Every staff member should be extended a severance agreement. Part of that severance package should be outplacement services.
Now, the severance agreement does two things: it gives the employee a lump sum of money to hold them over (and protects your business from lawsuits) and, thanks to outplacement, it provides them a clear path forward.
The exiting staff members will be fully prepared to make the transition and the retained staff members will know that they are in good hands, working for a company that cares about them, if they were to be let go in the future.
This truly helps protect that employer brand that you've been building, consciously or unconsciously - for years.
The Key Takeaways
When it comes to employer brand, you need to do everything in your power to ensure that you protect it.
In the long run, a strong employer brand can help you obtain the best talent while also retaining key staff members.
One of the most damaging things you can do to your employer brand is to offboard people without a proper strategy in place, especially if those offboarded individuals were laid off or part of a RIF.
This is where outplacement and a well-rounded severance agreement comes into play.
Want to learn about outplacement cost? Check out our guide here: