Leading with Purpose: Employer Branding Beyond Perks and Pay

Great employer branding can only be achieved after you’ve worked on being a great brand.

The business world often sees new concepts come and go. People obsess over these ideas for several months or even a few years before they fall into disuse, replaced by the next business fad.

One day it’s all about being an agile company focused on iterative sprints, frameworks, kanban-style visualizations and stand-ups meetings twice a week. The next day it’s about honing in on customer experience (the C in the long list of X-rated stars: UX, CX, EX, BX, PX...) where you can’t live without a customer-centric mindset, audience surveys and feedback-loops to boost your brand loyalty. And the days after it’s zeroing in on growth hacking, solving problems through design thinking, having a chatbot on your website, making use of artificial intelligence and so on. 

While it's important to stay current and innovative, as business people we can't let ourselves be swayed by every latest trending concept with its own buzzword. I mean, not everything that is trendy is useless, but what remains today of those concepts or models is what permeated into business culture, mostly, through common sense. 
Business trends are just responses to constant change in our cultural and technological landscape, where it’s a relentless quest to redefine the ways we work, experience the workplace or communicate with an ever-evolving audience.

Cue the next big thing (or maybe already old news): employer branding.

HR and the modern employee

Ah, yes, the post-pandemic and the new-normal of the workplace. HR departments are in shambles, on the edge, trapped between the outlook of a looming global recession and the perspective of a profound paradigmatic shift in how we work. One thing for sure is that this uncertainty has left employees and employers as clueless as goldfishes in a maze.

Perhaps, you have heard of “The Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting”. The former refers to people realizing —during the pandemic— that they were unhappy with their jobs or working in careers they no longer wanted to pursue and deciding to quit. The latter addresses a distinct, yet related, phenomenon where people —here again in the context of the pandemic and its lockdowns— experienced an overwhelming disillusionment about the role of work in their lives and decided, not to quit, but instead, to do the bare minimum at work. Quitting without quitting.

Bad news for employers? Not really, as other buzzwords have recently taken part in the HR discussions as well. Heard of “Boomerang Employees” or “The Great Regret”? A natural response to the phenomena mentioned above, when people inevitably start to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Four out of 10 people (43%) who quit their jobs during the pandemic now admit they were actually better off at their old job. A 2023 article in HBR on boomerang employees citing a recent international survey, states that nearly 20% of workers who quit their jobs during the pandemic have since returned to their old employers. As for regretting their decision (after a 2022 Joblist report), 26% of people who quit their last job regret the decision and 42% say that their new job has not lived up to their expectations.
Now throw Artificial Intelligence in the mix —promising to turbocharge productivity with digital superpowers— and the million-dollar question is: what the heck are employers supposed to do?

Difficult to say what the future of work will look like. One thing is certain though and it’s that many of the employees who are not engaged —that might even consider quiet quitting or resigning— actually want a reason to be inspired.

The fallacy of happiness in the workplace

We’ve all heard something similar to the following statement: “A happy employee is a productive employee.” Seems fair to think that happiness has to play a huge role in any company culture, right?

True, but I’d argue that happiness is much more difficult, if not borderline impossible, for any company to measure, track and work on. The reason being that happiness —in addition to being a state of mind varying from one person to the next— is the result of efforts directed towards meaningful goals, and not necessarily the goal of being happy.
In that regard, I’d say happiness as an outcome shouldn’t be the focus of businesses and HR departments.

But don’t we just want to be happy? 

Exploring this topic I came across an article about Nobel Prize-winner and cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman who asserts that happiness and satisfaction are distinct. Happiness is a momentary experience, spontaneous and fleeting, while satisfaction is a long-term feeling, built over time, based on achieving goals and building a life you can be proud of. (Note: although I agree 100% with the gist of his proposition I think fulfilment is the better word here).
Nietzsche believed that finding meaning in life precedes being happy. He also thought that happiness resides in overcoming resistance and suffering —or difficulties— happiness being a feeling of growth. 

Similarly, psychologist Victor Frankl, suggests that in order to live a good life, being happy shouldn’t be made a goal in itself as it is only the by-product of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself. 

Louder for those in the back! …dedication to a cause greater than oneself.

Your brand, inside and out

It seems that recently, business people have come to the realization that the world of work is not all free lunch, bring-your-dog-to-the-office days or ping-pong tables. While there is a lot to be said for perks like these, it's important to remember that they're nothing more than benefits for employees. They don't actually motivate your people nor leave them fulfilled.

The first and most obvious way to create and retain a team of A-players would be paying them fairly and treating them well. That’s a given. The second is your employer brand: it gives your people a sense of belonging as well as an opportunity to make a difference in the world (through your company’s narrative, but we’ll talk about it later).

Your employer brand is twofold.  

One, it is the perception that your former, current and future employees —as well as the global workforce— have of your brand. In other terms, your reputation. Mostly, the way people talk about the inner workings of your company, how aligned they are with what you advertise working for you is and how it compares to the market you're in.

Two, it is about the tactics you put in place to engage every stakeholder. In this regard, having great perks is a tactic when it comes to attracting, engaging and retaining talents. But here again, they need to be thought through the prism of your company’s narrative. It would make sense for Patagonia or The North Face to provide their employees with company-sponsored outdoor activities, but less so for Chipotle or Mcdonald's.

The key to a great employer brand is being consistent on your narrative (you can call it vision, purpose, just cause or whatever you think fits). Hence making sure the tactics you put in place aren’t just smoke and mirror to be perceived in a way you’re not. Most people want their work to have a strong sense of purpose, to have an impact. And most importantly, it’s about making sure that your narrative is legitimate. People are quick to spot any gap between what a company is and what it says it is.

Remember Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ famous quote: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”.

We become those we attract

Think of it this way: if fulfilment comes from feeling like you're a part of something bigger than yourself, having a strong employer brand means being able to show potential candidates that you stand for something and that you’ve set out to build something that will impact people’s lives.

It's about having a culture that people want to be a part of. That way you can attract those who share your values and are excited about furthering your narrative.
Also, there’s something to be said here about hiring for culture-add versus for culture-fit. But that’s for another blog. Maybe.

Having a strong employer brand it is not just a nice-to-have, it's a must-have in today's competitive job market.

Ok, it can help you attract and retain top talents that align with your company culture and values. But, organizations with strong values, when they are truly lived, are more likely to have their employees become ambassadors for their brand. And that’s invaluable.

After all, your employees are often the ones who bring your narrative to life. So when you hire someone, you need to make sure that they will be fulfilled with their job in the long term. 

Your people should be able to articulate why they care about what you do as a brand. If someone you work with can't say anything about what drives them outside of their paycheck —if they can’t find a reason why their work matters— then you might have failed to create a compelling employer brand that inspires and engages your employees. 

Take Zappos, for example, which is repeatedly rated as one of the best places to work. They’ve got the reputation to have an incredible culture. They have a whole department called Brand Aura dedicated to the experience of employees and their community, where the team members are called the ‘fungineers’. They have parties all year long, going as far as hosting an annual skate event in the Las Vegas desert. All the above —and a shitload more— are tactics that exist to bring Zappos’ purpose (read narrative) to life: to live and deliver WOW. 

The story of Cameron Guerrero illustrates what it means act upon your narrative and make a deep, memorable impact on someone’s life. 

Tony Hsieh —then CEO at Zappos— loved taking colleagues and friends to hockey games. He always insisted they went to the games together on his personal tour bus. Cameron was part of the group that day, going to see the Vegas Golden Knights. In a conversation, Tony overheard that her partner was stuck at work and would try to meet them at the game. Tony suggested otherwise: “Let’s pick him up at his office instead.” And so they turned around and they pulled up at her partner’s office in a giant Zappos tour bus, with Tony even greeting him at the building door.

If, as a CEO, a manager or even a business, you say you’re all about community, company culture and family spirit (as can be read on Zappos’ website)... that right there, was a true embodiment of those principles and a true WOW moment was delivered that day.

More so, where it gets interesting to me, is that of all those parties and benefits, what Cameron remembers is the moment when the values and vision of Zappos really came to life —beyond the cultural tactics— and were genuinely embodied by the top management. To this day, she says: “I will never forget that moment. I still smile widely thinking back on that feeling.”

Now look.

You don’t need a team of fungineers, a full-time life coach in the office or a tour bus, but when you give your employees something to believe in, a way to feel like they're a part of something bigger, your customers will start to feel it too. 

The key is in the balance

Work-life balance is often talked about in correlation to happiness at work. At least, it’s something we’ve discussed, surprisingly, a lot at Nemesis. 

We strongly believe work-life balance isn’t necessarily having clear boundaries between your professional and personal life, nor trying to separate the two. Rather it’s about doing something you’re passionate about so that it can spill over into your personal life. Work-life balance is being as happy and fulfilled at work as you are at home.

Similar to company culture (read the article about culture), I believe we should focus on what leads to greater overall fulfillment in the workplace, rather than aiming for happiness at work by way of perks and benefits.

To make things clear, you shouldn’t fire your company’s happiness manager, get rid of the mid-day-break yoga classes or cut budgets for afterworks, but rather focus on building the foundations which will create long-term fulfillment across all stakeholders. Salaries, benefits and perks are part of it, but there’s more. 

A last word: Keep in mind, great employer branding can only be achieved after you’ve worked on being a great brand. Get to know what you stand for and how you want to make a dent in the universe. Only then you can start advertising it to the world and future talents.

We promise it’ll pay off.

Let’s start a conversation

We’re one chat away to the start of an amazing brand transformation.
Hit us up!

Solve this simple calculation to prove you are not an AI Bot trying to take over the world

Upload a file**

* mandatory fields
** pdf (only) up to 25mb