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16 Jun. 2020 | Comments (0)

During the global pandemic, how business manages its employee experience has become the most important driver of overall corporate and brand reputation. 

A recent study from RepTrak indicated that although workplace culture historically has had the least influence on company reputation among their seven main drivers, it has significantly gained in importance and is now the number-one most important dimension. The pandemic has so fundamentally impacted the employee/employer relationship, it’s quite possible this will continue long after the pandemic has passed.

Rising Expectations

Mark Cuban probably put it best when he said recently, “How you treat your employees today will have more impact on your brand in future years than any amount of advertising, any amount of anything you literally could do.”

All of this is not surprising when you consider the incredibly high expectations consumers have for companies to act in times of a global health crisis. According to a report from Morning Consult, the number-one, most important (90% very important and somewhat important) thing consumers expect from companies they purchase goods or services from to do is “take care of their employees and treat them well, even in tough times.” 

And according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, nearly 80% of the respondents across 10 countries expect business to act to protect employees and the local community. These same respondents expect business to adapt its operations, including remote working, cancelling non-essential events, and business travel bans. More than 70% said they count on business to adapt its HR policies, to give paid sick leave, or prevent at-risk employees from coming to work, among other things.

Those companies who are able to meet and exceed these expectations are being rewarded not only in the marketplace, but with improving reputations that will pay major trust and loyalty dividends now and well into the future.

Action First

There are several dimensions of the employee experience that are critically important. 

First, the employee experience is far less about what you say than what you actually do.

Many companies have gone above and beyond in caring for their employees’ financial, physical, and emotional health. Companies have instituted such enhanced benefit policies as extended paid sick leave, paid family and caregiver leave, special mental health support, incentive pay, special one-time bonuses, child care reimbursement, extra paid time off to care for children whose schools are closed, emergency elder care, and paying employees even while closed. All of these enhanced benefits are in addition to the comprehensive safety precautions companies are implementing to create a safe environment as they welcome employees back to work.

Lorna Friedman, global health leader at Mercer, said, “’People first’ is the mantra we think is most important when it comes to leading the workforce” during the pandemic. She said of the organizations that provide extra assistance to their employees during this difficult time, “People will remember the goodwill and reputational value of trying to do the right thing.”

Compelling Communication

In an environment of heighted anxiety, fear, and isolation, the internal communication function has never been more important. Companies have an obligation to provide fast, frequent, and human communication to their workforce all in an effort to keep employees healthy, engaged, and productive.

Under any circumstances, but particularly during this pandemic, an organization’s communications must:

  • Be true to its values. Now more than ever, companies need to know what they stand for and believe in and let those values guide its behavior.
  • Be credible. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Any gap will be recognized immediately.
  • Be transparent. Employers will never be credible without being open and honest. Never should honesty and truthfulness be compromised.
  • Be action- and solution-oriented. Provide meaningful ways for employees to engage with each other and their communities.  
  • Be led with compassion and empathy. Words, tone, and volume really matter in building trust and understanding.
  • Be clear, consistent, and respectful.  Having a straightforward, simple vision for the future helps build confidence and loyalty.
  • Be continually evaluated for its effectiveness. Know what’s working and what isn’t and be prepared to make mid-course corrections.
  • Be multi-directional. Ensure there is a listening mechanism in place to create real dialogue.
  • Be inspirational. Celebrating success has never been more important.

To reinforce the importance of communication, the Edelman Trust Barometer finds that employer communication is seen as the most credible source of information about the pandemic. In their report, “my employer” was cited as the most trusted institution, 18 points higher than business in general and NGOs, and by 27 points over government and the media. 

Focus on the Employee Experience

As tragic as this pandemic has been, it has created a unique opportunity for businesses to demonstrate who they really are in their quest to become an employer of choice. Many companies have realized how vital it is to demonstrate their core values to their number-one most important stakeholder – their employees.  And it’s this focus on the employee experience that will dramatically shape the reputation of their brands and their companies for years to come. 

This is a guest blog, which does not necessarily represent the views of The Conference Board.

  • About the Author:Kirk Stewart

    Kirk Stewart

    Kirk Stewart is a Senior Fellow in The Conference Board Marketing & Communications Center. Kirk has more than 40 years of experience in both corporate and agency public relations having serve…

    Full Bio | More from Kirk Stewart


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