HR Indaba Conversation discusses championing the employer brand in times of crisis


How employers respond in times of a crisis is what employees will remember.

With so many business functions disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis, companies everywhere face an unprecedented number of challenges and uncertainties at the same time.

While employer branding may not seem like a high priority to some, this is exactly the moment when organisations must take care to respect, protect and even elevate their reputation to internal and external people and clients. This was the consensus during an HR Indaba Conversation themed “Courage under fire”, sponsored by Mercer.

Senior associate Keletjo Chiloane presented a 2019 Mercer study, in which 73 percent of executives had predicted a disruption in the following three years.

She explained that in the past 18 months organisations have responded differently to the pandemic. Some have succeeded in ensuring that their employer brand has not been damaged, she noted, but on the other hand, “Some companies have really struggled with the way they engaged with their employees, and how they put out communication into the markets and industries in which they operate.”

Keletjo reiterated that the issue around employer brand is not just tagged to the pandemic, no matter how topical that is. There are a lot of other influences and actions that create an employer brand, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

How an organisation responds to crisis will be remembered
Keletjo noted that how employers respond in times of a crisis is what will be remembered by employees both from a talent retention and attraction perspective.

“At Mercer we speak about winning with empathy and we have noticed that organisations that take into consideration the wellbeing of their employees – their health, wealth, and careers – are the organisations that tend to maintain their employer brand.”

What is important for HR leaders in times of crisis
Employees are key stakeholders in organisations, and it is very important to maintain engagement when there is a crisis to ensure that organisations are truly hearing employees’ voices and taking their views into account, she said.

“The second important thing is to redesign the EVP. A lot of elements help to form EVPs; one is building a purpose-driven organisation where we make sure that employees also buy into the values of the organisation,” she said.

“The last is preventing unwanted employee turnover. We all know the costs of a high turnover and that is something HR professionals that would want to avoid and reduce so that we do not have a situation where we are bleeding talent.”

Celiwe Ross, human capital director at Old Mutual Limited said that she believes that brand has a lot to do with marketing, but that’s because they are the custodians of customer value proposition: “HR professionals are the custodians of employee value proposition and the two have to work together for them to make sense.

“Having spent time reflecting on the topic and thinking about our own employer brand and the things that are top of mind at Old Mutual, it’s clear employer brand is directly linked with reputation, with people’s perception of what the company does and it’s the way current and future employees perceive you as a place of work,” she added.

Celiwe says to do this successfully they believe that they need to target employees across the value chain, “Those are new hires, from junior to mid and senior employees and those that are about to retire, because they continue to have a voice even when their careers with us are over.”

Covid-19 has brought the world of life and work together into one dimension. And it has shown us that the onus is on us as organisations to provide a place where these two worlds can thrive. “How do I as an employee make an impact not only on my organisation and colleagues but also to my community and society?” Celiwe asked.

“Lastly remote work and flexible work are no longer a thing of the past, as people are demanding it and that is a big part of the EVP and we are considering how we can embed this new way of working and also drive engagement.”

Beverley Bennett, human resources executive at Curro Holdings, says that it takes a strong leader to navigate through the unknown, which we are all facing. The leader needs to be both the anchor of the ship and responsible for steering the company into its values.

“What we found was that our leader needed to be visible at all times and we achieved this through clear communication throughout the crisis,” she said.

“We used Q&A approaches to create assurance among staff and they had to distinguish between what was important and urgent. Ultimately communication was the glue that held our company together, and we needed to make our people understand what the changes were, what it meant to them and what was expected of them next.”

Petro-Ann Beukes, head of group HR at Pam Golding Properties, agreed and emphasised the importance of communication. “In times of crisis you don’t want your staff to be reading your news on the media or hearing it about other people, you want them to hear it from you. So communication is critical.”

Petro said that the positive that had emerged from the pandemic was embracing the remote work concept while also communicating in a very different way that is also equally effective and engaging.

“Managing your employer brand during a crisis can be difficult, but adopting an authentic, consistent approach will help you better manage the expectations of your people. We needed to be consistent about our identity and enhance our tone of voice,” she noted.

“What also helps is to make your values visible in the way you communicate and help your people in these extraordinary times. Be like the friend you can count on in good and bad times and say to your employees, ‘We have got you,’ she concluded.”

In the chat

Jerodine Makwakwa, Sibanye Stillwater – “Mindset is one of the most important aspects during a crisis. Most individuals are living in a bubble and they are not realistic. Changing our mindset helps us to embrace what is happening/going through and also makes us be mindful.” 

Keletjo Chiloane, Mercer – “People are willing to put in discretionary effort when they feel alignment with the values of the organisation.”

Carla Daniels, Mercer – “The pandemic showed us that it is human to show vulnerabilities, which was not the norm prior to Covid-19.”

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