Employer Branding: We need a contingency plan

As many others before me have noted, the modern workforce is changing more rapidly than ever. Chief among these changes is the rise of the contingent worker. In the UK, where I am based, we have the highest number of temporary workers’ in Europe, with more than 1.2 million agency workers and more than 600,000 on zero-hour contracts.

More than half of all new jobs created in the European Union since 2010 have been through temporary contracts. Certainly an upward growth trend in temporary workers across France, Netherlands, Italy and other European countries in 2016. Germany, for instance, saw a 22% increase in the number of temporary workers in the last 5 years.

Talent acquisition specialists have already begun adapting to this new reality, with increasing numbers of Managed Service Program (MSP) and Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) providers and their clients moving from silos to a “total talent” approach. Organizations that follow this model take a more holistic view of talent acquisition, applying the same rigor and expertise to the business of recruiting contingent workers as they do with that of attracting and engaging permanent employees.

So far, the debate about total talent has focused principally on process and technology. Of employer branding, much less, if anything, has been said. Why not? Well, perhaps the clue is in the name.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the word “branding.” Having spent my career building and transforming both corporate and employer brands, I am passionate about the importance of applying the art of marketing to the process of attracting and engaging with the talent an organization needs.  But, from the very beginning, employer branding has been conceived as a way of enabling organizations to build stronger relationships and emotional connections with the people they employ. Much less the people they hire on a project-by-project basis. Not the staffing agency workers who are brought in when things get busy. Not the independent contractor who regularly supports the business with her specialist knowledge and expertise.

Isn’t the time ripe for a change of definition?

As the balance between permanent and contingent workers shifts inexorably towards the latter, it does not seem right to restrict our branding efforts to one shrinking part of the overall workforce, even if for many organizations it remains the largest single group.Are contingent workers seriously so unlike their permanent counterparts that we don’t need to worry about their levels of engagement? Does their contribution make so little difference to the bottom line?

PREMIUM CONTENT: To what degree do temporary workers recognize staffing firm brands?

And are organizations not having to compete for the best temporary staff out there? Does it really not matter why or how a highly skilled contingent worker chooses to take on a project with one organization rather than another?

Of course, when you put it like this, the answer seems obvious. Organizations that want to thrive in the future talent marketplace will need to replace their antiquated notion of employer branding with a more fit-for-purpose total talent kind – the people brand, perhaps?

But before I put my call into the Oxford English Dictionary, it is worth looking at some of the issues that might arise if organizations start broadening their conception of “employer” branding.

1. Is the people/talent brand the same for permanent and temporary workers? If it is, then it will need to be flexible enough to cater for a wide range of audiences, each with their own requirements and tastes. After all, a contractor’s career drivers are unlikely to be the same as those of a permanent employee.

2. How will temporary workers be exposed to the brand? For permanent employees, there is a well-established sequence of brand touchpoints, from the initial online job ad or careers website visit through to the monthly alumni newsletter. But what would the lifecycle look like for contingent workers? Where and how might organizations have the opportunity to get their brand across?

3. How will third parties be able to support the people brand? Relationships between organizations and temporary workers are often mediated by third-party agencies. What steps can organizations take to ensure their agency partners are able to promote their brand in a consistent and accurate way? How will third-parties need to adapt the proposition to better support their clients in this way?

As organizations transition toward a more flexible and scalable workforce, the challenge for those of us interested and working in the field of employer branding is not just about semantics around terminology, but the fundamental shift in the parameters of how we think about branding the experience of work.

MORE: Employment brand report analysis

Marisa Kacary

Marisa Kacary
Marisa Kacary is senior VP, global head of marketing for Pontoon. She can be reached at marisa.kacary (at) pontoonsolutions (dot) com.

Marisa Kacary
Marisa Kacary is senior VP, global head of marketing for Pontoon. She can be reached at marisa.kacary (at) pontoonsolutions (dot) com.

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