Check your message to job seekers during this global pandemic
How good is your organisation's message to job seekers during this global pandemic?
Find out why you should be prepared to answer this key question: " How did you respond to the COVID-19 crisis?"
Following the chaos caused by this pandemic, as companies respond to the COVID-19 crisis they face unprecedented setbacks and challenges. With the world sinking into global crisis, businesses around the world have had to completely overhaul their daily operations. This ranges from stopping trading completely, to shifting to an entirely work-from-home model in a matter of weeks. It's imperative that your organisation's message to job seekers during this global pandemic is on point.
With 24% of US companies reportedly planning to downsize, companies' reactions in the face of crisis are very telling. In response to financial losses, we ask who has protected their employees and who has been quick to make layoffs? Which companies have been quick to offer help? And which come up with innovative ideas? Different responses reveal a lot about company ethos, corporate culture as well as business strategies. And they also shed light on how businesses treat their customers and employees.
In fact, this will likely transform into benchmark interview question asked by candidates to potential employers for many years to come:
“How Did You Respond to the COVID-19 Crisis?”
And what we want to know is, if faced with this question in a future interview, how will companies respond? What are the answers we, as candidates, would be looking for? And what would they reveal about working for that business? We have tapped into our network of career experts for some professional insights on the ‘right’ ways companies should be reacting in the face of crisis.
Were businesses prepared?
This is one of the first things we can observe about reactions to the crisis. Did the companies have any emergency plans or measures in place for such a crisis?
Donna Svei, Executive Resume Writer, comments about what she would like to hear in response to such an interview question:
"We activated our pandemic response plan. These were the key elements. This was my role. As a result, this is how our people and our business have been affected."
The number of companies that realistically will have had such ‘pandemic’ plans in place is minimal however. Virginia Franco, Executive Resume and LinkedIn Writer, points out that most emergency plans consider mostly terrorist attacks and natural disasters:
“I fear this is a “learn as we go [situation]”. It highlights that the hardest-hit sectors such as travel and small business should be triaged for care first.
However, some companies’ prior measures in anticipation of changes to their daily operations have proven to hit the nail on the head, Donna relays. Mike Bloomberg for example, prepared a full-scale rehearsal of his company working from home. We can see the impact on different countries too that had deployed research and response plans prior to the outbreak. South Korea for example, had worked on its emergency responses. As a result, despite high numbers of infections, it had the lowest death rate ratio of infected countries. The US, however, with failure to prepare and bungled testing kits, was slow to take measures and is now paying the consequences.
Have companies done their bit to help?
However some companies are really shining as they do their bit to help the world in response to this crisis. We have seen some huge offerings from many companies already. Videoconferencing platform Zoom removed their 40-minute meeting limit on their free accounts for students and teachers at K-12 schools in America. Microsoft has also offered up its Healthcare Bot service to organizations working directly with COVID-19 response, to help test patients for potential infection and care.
Moves like this have the power to make a real difference to communities facing the crisis. Should all companies be following this lead?
Matthew Shannon, Senior Diversity Programs Manager at Medtronic, thinks so:
“Actions speak louder than words. It is what we do rather than what we say that reflects our priorities.”
Tony Restell, Recruitment Marketer and Lead generator, however argues that although what large companies like Zoom are doing is great, this particular action is something very low-cost to them. He highlights that they are also a business that stands to benefit enormously from the shifts brought to work patterns. In contrast, lots of other businesses are fighting for survival. “For me I think it's a question of whether a company did what *they* could in the circumstances.” He asserts that his expectations of what companies in Zoom’s position might do compared to those in vastly different circumstances, would be “rather different.”
And it's true. For instance, let's go back to job seeker expectations for how companies responded to the crisis. 3Plus’s Dorothy Dalton highlights how every candidate is likely to have different hopes depending on their role, area and desires. A strategist may be looking for something different to an operations person. She highlights how it boils down to the company showing “something more than a transactional approach.”
3Plus has a wealth of free services and podcasts that help with career development. We invite you to try them HERE.
Were they authentic?
OK, so most people agree that companies should make moves to help where they can when facing a crisis. However, our experts also highlighted the motives behind these moves as important. Public acts are all well and good, but are they doing them for the right reasons? Are they protecting the people who work for them and finding ways to protect their businesses for the future?
This is the concern of Anne Perschel. She says that companies taking action, like Zoom, really does matter. However:
“It also matters that it’s not being done to gain points, build a reputation or other self-serving reasons. Intentions also matter”
Sarah Johnston, Executive Resume Writer, expresses similar concerns. “My hope is that they are considering more than short-term publicity moves.” She emphasises the expected long-lasting economic impact of the virus. As such, she hopes a company would respond in an interview that they did what they could to keep their staff employed and minimise human capital cuts.
Gabriel Grove, Medical Assistant and business owner, agrees. She too highlights authentic motives as the key to judging a company’s response to this question:
“Be authentic all the time and take care of your people!”
But going back to Tony’s point above. Good motives or not, there are some companies in a much more comfortable position to be making grand authentic gestures to the public, while many other businesses struggle to get by. Are there still ways to see authenticity and a ‘do what we can’ attitude from these businesses?
Read here about our take on Authenticity in Leadership.
Hannah Morgan, Job Search Strategist, thinks absolutely. “What I love seeing are the examples of companies that are doing it well! Such as grocery stores that limit quantities and offer special shopping hours for the elderly and at-risk, or restaurants offering curbside pickup.” So in an interview she would be looking to see this authentic attitude to help. There are ways to help that still sit within the means of each individual company.
In fact, Emily Firth, Global Employer Brand Consultant, highlights that it's in the face of a tough situation that authentic actions really speak volumes. They show whether or not your employer brand and values run deeper than words. She suggests that company values, EVP and purpose are there as a guide in hard times. Emily wants to see companies make commercially sensible decisions, but use these factors as the lens for making those decisions. She advises businesses:
“Act based on the promises you made and what you stand for, not how everyone else is acting.”
Did they show compassion?
Another key factor that came up amongst our experts was compassion. In response to an interview question to a potential new employer, any candidate would hope to see a potential company would treat their employees and customers with compassion in times of need.
It is worth highlighting one particularly heartless report during the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis. A business did not allow an employee to work from home, despite having a pregnant wife with auto-immune conditions at high-risk of infection. In the face of this, we question what kind of impact things these actions would have on productivity and morale.
“Honestly, I can’t think of anything more important than that,” said Sonal Bahl, Career Strategist. “If my boss doesn’t get it, pffff... I’m in the wrong organisation. I’m happy to call a spade a spade.”
Andy Foote, LinkedIn Profile Specialist, also highlights a need for compassion. In response to the interview question he said he would hope for a response such as:
“We did the best we could in the circumstances, for our employees, our customers. And we did everything we could for people we knew were hurting.”
This goes for employees and customers. He heralds quick-thinking companies such as Guerilla Tacos that bundled toilet paper into deliveries.
Jacqui Barrett Poindexter, Career Story Writer, agrees. She rightly highlights that many companies may not be imminently prepared to handle such a rare and painful scenario. Therefore it is important that they can say they showed a willingness to learn. She emphasises the hope that companies:
“Openly and regularly communicated with their employees, with empathy, compassion and direction.”
How have they handled layoffs?
Finally, with many businesses facing huge financial ramifications, how companies handle layoffs is an important discussion point.
Asking the important questions, Susan Joyce, Job Search Expert, would want to know:
“Did they lay people off to save money? Or, did they dig in and try to protect the organization and employees so they will be ready when the recovery from this event happens?”
Seeing top performing employees being let go, she highlights that this is a short-sighted move by businesses. Although saving money short-term on an employee salary, it gives little regard for the employee’s quality of work or the revenue they generated.
“The companies that have made the best impression on me are the ones who are saying this is what we are doing to keep our employees safe, in addition to sharing information on how customers are impacted.”
Clarity of communication and transparency are certainly critical in allowing customers and employees to feel considered and like they matter. It helps reduce the feeling of helplessness.
Finally, Donna Schilder, Executive Coach, sums up how even when left with no other choice but a layoff, companies can still choose to act in the ‘right’ way. “If a layoff is inevitable, layoff is better than putting employees on unpaid leave. At least they will get unemployment that way.”
So, we have established five important factors to consider when asking if the way the companies respond to the COVID-19 crisis is ‘doing it right’. Preparedness, helping others, authenticity, compassion, and employee protection. If your organisation's message to job seekers during this global pandemic touches on these points, your employer brand will not only be protected but enhanced. People are taking names and they will react. You want that to be positive to make sure you attract and retain the best talent.
Thanks to all our experts for sharing their incisive comments. Do you agree with them? What do you think are any other important factors in responding to this crisis?
Editors Note: Since this post was published a number of well-known brands have made u-turns on their policies around the way they are treating their employees. They are understanding that what their employees think of them now (their employer brand) will impact every element of their business and they will have to account for their responses from job seekers, employees ,customers and consumers in the future. Job seekers WILL ask.
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