Don't Neglect Employees in a Down Economy

Develop a Marketing Strategy That Links Business Objectives With What Drives Your Staff

By Published on .

Rob O'Keefe
Rob O'Keefe
Up 300 points one day, down 450 the next. One year further into the debate of whether the U.S. economy is in recession or not, the financial markets are more volatile than ever. But if you think Wall Street is on a roller-coaster ride, check out the psyche of American workers. They're on the same ride, but without the all-important safety harness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in June alone, there were 1,643 mass layoff actions, resulting in 165,697 unemployment-insurance filings. Citigroup recently announced that layoffs could reach as many as 24,000. General Motors has announced that it will cut 30,000 jobs. Earlier this year, Yahoo announced it would lay off 1,000 employees. As if that weren't bad enough, the work force is coping with extraordinary price increases for oil, gas and food -- not exactly items that fall into the discretionary-funds category.

In the midst of this, companies face the dual challenge of executing fiscal responsibility in a down economy while still maximizing revenue and increasing market share. Both of those efforts have the employee as the central focus, either as an expense item or as a revenue generator.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in organizational development to realize that companies face a significant challenge. It does, however, require that employers recognize that challenges in a downturn can be mitigated if they view employees with the same critical eye as they view customers. Seek to understand what drives them (yes, something beyond compensation). Develop an employment marketing strategy that aligns employee drivers with business objectives. Then use that strategy to deliver the tenets of your employer brand.

Rob O'Keefe is VP-brand strategy at TMP Worldwide Advertising and Communications.
Just to be absolutely clear, including a statement in your company's annual report proclaiming "our people are our greatest resource" can't be the culmination of your organization's efforts. Including a similar description in your company values isn't really much better. However, with that sentiment in mind, research the proof points that would allow you to make such an assertion. Do those proof points seem robust, or do you need to put programs in place that will allow the development of a compelling employment value proposition?

In the same way you enhance customer loyalty through a rational and emotional connection to your brand you can create connections with employees. Of course, that requires a commitment to employer brand management -- the same commitment you would make to your product or service brand.

If there is bad news (for example, company performance), communicate it with transparency. If there is really bad news (layoffs would qualify here), don't drag it out. Act quickly and communicate with clarity. You still have a group of employees that need to be engaged.

As for those -- and future -- employees, development and active promotion of an employer brand tends to have three primary benefits. The first is broader and deeper engagement in fulfilling the company mission and achieving the corresponding objectives. The second is in mitigating pricing pressures. In the same way that a product brand tends to support pricing, an employer brand provides the employee with other reasons to remain with an organization that reduce reliance on compensation as a primary driver for job satisfaction. The third benefit has to do with attraction and retention efforts, specifically broadening access to a more desirable segment of the employment market -- the segment that tends to be the most engaged in achieving company objectives.

Any one of these should provide sufficient reason for marketing to your own employees. Remember, once the economy picks up, disengaged employees find it very easy to pack up.
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