Understanding the nuances of a client’s employment culture is critical to determining its employment brand. It’s how the best recruiters match the right candidates to the right contracts, and how staffing firms command a firmer grasp of talent retention. But that undertaking requires some effort. Simply perusing a client’s career site or marketing materials just scratches at the surface. Odds are, candidates have already performed the same research. With a few creative discovery techniques, contingent workforce professionals can uncover hidden gems—and avoid potential pitfalls.
The Audience Is Listening
In this digitally socialized and transparent era, nothing escapes the watchful gaze of cameras, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. That’s why so much surprise and backlash surrounds companies that issue tone-deaf responses to highly visible public relations blunders. The nation’s third largest air carrier springs to mind. United Airlines suffered a cringe-worthy series of public outrage and bad press just a couple of years ago. Despite the negative attention, the hits just come on coming, culminating with the death of a puppy in 2018. The last incident prompted this astute quip from Anthony D’Angelo, national chair of the Public Relations Society of America: “You can’t talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into.”
Pepsi stepped into its own mess in 2017 when it launched a commercial that viewers considered an indifferent trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not to be outdone, popular apparel retailer H&M created a devastating reputation crisis, as Samantha Wood noted in PRNEWS, after “the image of a small black boy modeling a sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘Coolest Monkey In the Jungle’ hit social media.” The results of these mishaps aren’t limited to boycotts, lost sponsors, or departing customers—they seriously and negatively impact a company’s consumer brand, employment brand, and culture.
Now imagine trying to recruit candidates for a company that beats the competition along with its own customers (yes, we’re looking at you again, United), or an enterprise that thinks a privileged supermodel represents the struggles of diversity in America. Contingent workforce leaders must have their hands full—probably with all the hair they’ve pulled out trying to sell the “employment experience” to candidates who’ve watched these fiascos unfold with dropped jaws.
Saying that social media has a profound impact on business is a bit of an understatement these days. Social networks have become indispensable recruitment tools, sales channels, bastions of professional connectivity and, for better or worse, some of the most influential shapers of reputation. Back in the day, a particularly scathing review by a critic could present obstacles for a business. Conversely, lavishing praise on that same business could pique consumer interest. The reality, though, is that critics were easy to dismiss as individuals with their own confirmation biases.
Peer reviews filling up sites like Yelp and Glassdoor, on the other hand, tend to have a more significant effect because we’re reading the opinions of people like us. The patrons of a neighborhood café are not academically trained culinary experts or food scientists; they’re the folks who live in that neighborhood and eat at its restaurants. They’re us. We can relate to their delights and despairs.
Here’s something else to consider. A restaurant knows in advance when a critic is coming to review it. The staff have time to clean, prepare, and coordinate an exceptional experience. Does that establishment maintain the same standards on a daily basis? Well, that’s what peer reviews often tell us in a more unvarnished depiction. The same holds true for workers and the companies they’ve supported. In 2016, LinkedIn published data that demonstrated the very high costs of very bad employment branding:
- The cost of a bad reputation for a company with 10,000 employees could be as much as $7.6 million in additional wages. Based on the average US salary being $47,230 (according to BLS), assumed annual turnover of 16.4%, and a minimum 10% per cent pay rise.
- Employers who fail to invest in their reputation could be paying up to an additional $4,723 per employee hired.
- Nearly half of US professionals would entirely rule out taking a job with a company that exhibited the top three negative employer brand factors, no matter what pay raise they were offered.
- Even a pay raise of 10% would only tempt 28% of us to sign on the dotted line.
The situation, at least statistically, hasn’t changed much in the intervening three years. As Kelsey Raymond reported for Entrepreneur, citing data collected from Glassdoor, companies can’t brush aside or bury toxic cultures in an era of universally accessible, visible, and contemporaneous reviews. She showcased a few examples:
- Kraft Heinz was the 18th worst company. Employees on surveys cited poor work-life balance, with one employee having posted, “11 hour days have become the norm"
- Belk was the 17th worst company. Employees said that they felt underpaid. Others took issue with a perceived disconnect between retail employees and senior management
- CDK Global was the 16th worst company. Just 38 percent of reviewers approved of the CEO and only 39 percent would recommend that a friend take a job with the company
“The bottom line is that even if you offer strong salaries and benefits packages, today’s employees want something more,” Raymond concluded. “By investing in the employer side of your brand, you can improve connections with your existing employees and show prospective workers what makes your business special.”
A well-defined and compelling brand speaks to reputation and effectively communicates an organization’s values, personality, and culture. It infuses every point-of-contact a company will have with its talent, from the job posting to recruitment outreach, training, and career development.
If we fail to place candidates in the best suited environments, we risk our reputations, future opportunities, and performance. We must therefore gain keen insight into the benefits and drawbacks of the client culture so we understand how best to position the optimal traits while overcoming challenges before the assignment begins.
Cultural Fit Is a Two-Way Street
Staffing industry professionals have spent a fair amount of time analyzing the best approaches to determining a fit between talent and clients. Matching candidates to employment cultures is an essential technique in modern hiring models. And it requires thoughtful introspection, examination, and the formulation of questions that will enlighten candidates, hiring managers, and recruiters in the process.
The best recruitment methods seek to uncover a candidate’s personality with an open mind, determine his or her integrity, and figure out if the person is disruptive or conducive. Culture- and behavior-based interviewing strategies can make a crucial difference here. Consider some sample questions to ask instead of the bygone standards that do little more than clarify points on a resume:
- What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you’ve ever had or wished that you have had?
- What are the positive aspects of your current job and work environment or the last position you held before coming to this interview?
- What are three to five expectations you have of senior leaders in a successful and highly engaged organization?
- When you work with a team, describe the role you are most likely to play on the team.
- Tell us about an occasion when you delighted a customer, either an internal or an external customer.
- Describe a situation when you had to work alone and then when you had to work on a team? How did you accomplish your tasks in each situation? Which was easier? Why?
Cracking the Culture Case
Odds are, if we ask client executives about their corporate cultures outright, we’re likely to hear a canned answer, excerpts from a mission statement, or what they think we want to hear. Instead, staffing and recruiting professionals should be “interviewing” hiring managers to learn the genuine nuances of the program, the organization, and the environment.
Questions to Ask and What They Reveal
- How long have you been with the company? For established organizations, high turnover could indicate low pay, long hours, lack of development or advancement opportunities, poor management, hostile working conditions or more. Determining average employee tenure is a great gauge. An even better question could be: “On average, how many contingent workers completed their assignments or received extensions?”
- What was the last major accomplishment celebrated? The response will provide a glimpse into employee recognition and appreciation. Even in a contingent assignment or contract project, talent want to know that their work is important to the client, and that their contributions will be acknowledged. The answer also indicates the level of team orientation, socialization and shared values. However, the lack of celebration isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. This sort of hands-off, autonomous, low-key culture could be appealing to a different type of worker.
- What is the dress code? This would constitute a standard logistical question to help prepare candidates for their first day on the job. However, it can tell us a lot more. Really casual cultures may also have some unorthodox perks, such as nap areas, massage rooms, free beer and more. And that sort of office may not appeal to every worker. Some talent prefer a strictly professional and structured setting, in which more formal attire would be the norm.
- What was the department’s biggest challenge last year, and what lessons were learned? The answer could prove useful in illustrating accountability and politics. Responses will impart a sense of how decisions are made and conflicts resolved. Understanding how a company handles setbacks or challenges defines whether it’s a continuous learning organization or culture of blame.
- How much time does the department manager spend with the team? Although contingent talent are employees of their staffing companies, they remain vital contributors to client projects. Actively engaged hiring managers usually embody cultures that seek thought diversity, listen to workers, promote collaboration and support innovation. In these organizations, contingent talent will likely be grouped with internal employees on projects, and have a lot of input. On the flip side, if you learn that client managers work 80-hour weeks and never take days off, the culture will be extremely focused on facetime and long hours.
- How is success measured? This question is incredibly important for contingent work arrangements. Recruiters must understand the expectations of the role, the metrics used to track performance, how high the bar is set for talent, what skills will be needed upfront, the timeframe for delivery and more.
- Does the company give back to the community? For Millennials, corporate social responsibility is a huge factor that influences their view of an employment brand. Businesses that practice and endorse sustainability, community activities, volunteering and philanthropy will be most attractive. Other talent view these issues as distractions or irrelevant to work. Regardless, it’s critical for contingent workforce leaders to understand their clients’ values intimately, which increases the likelihood of perfect placements.
Culture persists as a top-ranked concern talent, contingent workforce program managers, and their staffing partners. They must integrate with their clients’ cultures, assimilate others into the shared culture, and promote values that engage the right candidates. The more we know about our workers and our clients, the greater our chances of repeatable, consistent, and measurable success.