What Will Your Employer Reputation Be Post-Coronavirus?

By John Egan April 20, 2020
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​Once the threat of the coronavirus pandemic abates in the U.S., prospective employees are bound to pose questions motivated by the global pandemic. They'll be curious, for instance, about an employer's work-from-home policies and health care benefits.

A March 26 report from Forrester Research found that job seekers will be focused on this question: "How did you, as an employer, handle the coronavirus pandemic?"

According to the Forrester report, job candidates will first look at ratings on employer review websites such as Glassdoor to assess how employers handled the coronavirus crisis. Then, during the interview process, they will inquire about the organization's business continuity plans, pandemic-specific plans and other coronavirus-oriented practices.

A potential employee "wants to know that you were looking out for your employees, both in the short term and long term," said John Throckmorton, vice president of operations at Strategic HR, an HR management firm in Cincinnati. How your organization answers this overarching question could help determine your post-coronavirus success in recruiting and retaining employees. HR professionals and corporate executives offer six tips on shaping your organization's response to the coronavirus question.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

1. Re-evaluate your workplace culture.

Amelia Ransom, senior director of diversity and engagement at Avalara, a provider of tax compliance software in Seattle, suggested soliciting ideas from employees for changes they want to implement and then adopting the good concepts. Employers should take the time now, she said, to identify areas that must evolve to meet employees' new needs.

"Right now, organizations may realize they need to shift or pivot their company culture, and that's completely OK," Ransom said.

2. Scrutinize your reputation.

Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader of the people and organization practice at PwC in New York, said impressions of how your workforce and organization were treated during the coronavirus crisis will reverberate for quite a while. "People have long memories," he said. Sethi added that your organization could be judged by potential employees on, for instance, whether it stopped making 401(k) matches during the coronavirus pandemic or took away a training benefit.

The organization's character also could be gauged, he says, by how layoffs or furloughs were carried out. Did the organization herd employees into a "virtual room" and furlough them in one fell swoop, or was this done individually?

"Bringing people along, leading with empathy even if you hate to have to make those tough decisions—there's a way to do it in a humane way," Sethi says.

3. Anticipate the questions.

Camille Lewis, director of people operations at Canopy Tax, a Salt Lake City provider of tax software for accounting firms, recommends forming answers to coronavirus-related questions that job candidates might ask, such as:

  • How did the organization prepare for the coronavirus fallout?
  • When did the organization's emergency plans kick in?
  • What was expected of employees during the coronavirus pandemic?
  • How did the organization's leaders ensure the well-being of employees and their families?

A candidate then can compare the answers to the organization's values, Lewis said, and decide whether those answers align with his or her own values.

4. Be honest.

Ransom urges employers to answer the coronavirus questions in the most honest, transparent way possible.

"If you answer this question dishonestly, you will end up hiring candidates that would work well with the false representation of your company that you pitched them and may not be a good addition to the real culture of your organization," Ransom said.

Strategic HR's Throckmorton recommends being upfront about your organization's coronavirus-driven approaches to the following:

  • Work-from-home opportunities.
  • Furloughs of nonessential staff.
  • Unemployment claims.
  • Return-to-work protocols.
  • Personal health and safety measures, such as sanitation and social distancing.
  • Tech-powered collaboration and meetings.

"Even if the company didn't handle some aspects as well as it could have, [you should] maintain … that if the crisis were to happen again, you'd be better prepared," said Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, a personal finance platform in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Prospective employees, above all, are interested in the improvements the company has made, and they want to be sure their potential employer is one that responds well and grows stronger through hardships."

5. Turn the tables.

Throckmorton says coronavirus-related questions also can be posed to a potential hire for your organization's management team. The answers will yield insight into how that person deals with crises, he said, and whether that person fits into your workplace culture. Follow-up questions could explore the leadership role the prospective hire played during the coronavirus pandemic.

6. Consider your current workforce.

As you focus on how future employees will perceive your organization's response to the coronavirus outbreak, don't overlook your current employees.

"What employers can do now is remind themselves that the way they navigate this situation is something that will impact their organization for better or for worse for months, maybe years, to come," Lewis, of Canopy Tax, said. "It is unlikely employees will be leaving their jobs now, but if they don't feel cared for or valued, or if their employer isn't treating them with empathy and kindness during this time, employees—and their families—won't forget it."

John Egan is a freelance writer in Austin, Texas.

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