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How To Build A Reputation As A Top Employer

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Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly multi-generational, multi-ethnic and global. At the same time, growing skills shortages have become a worldwide management concern. To attract, retain and engage top talent, organizations have to work harder than ever to build employer brands that differentiate their organization from those competing for the same top-tier talent.

Many employers look to compensation and benefits packages or flexible working conditions as ways to keep current and future employees happy, but an increasingly important pull-factor is less tangible and easy to control: employer brand.

Recent studies suggest an average of 75 to 80 percent of people “prefer to work for a company known for its social responsibility.” An active Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program can be a powerful factor in driving a positive employer reputation, but CSR is more than simply being involved in good causes. An organization with exclusionary or discriminatory employment practices can also impact employer brand and adversely impact an organization’s ability to compete.

Becoming a more diverse and socially-responsible employer is not just about attractiveness to employees – it is also a question of competitiveness in the marketplace. A strong corporate reputation can be a key differentiator for customers, while an engaged and diverse workforce is proven to be a major driver of business performance and innovation.

In Depth

According to Aon’s most recent Global Risk Management survey, damage to corporate reputation was rated the top risk concern among leaders of global organizations. Negative brand reputation can impact balance sheets but also affect talent acquisition– making it even more challenging to find and retain the right talent. A classic survey of MBA students in 12 top international business schools found that 96 percent ranked reputation as an important factor in choice of employer.

But what makes for a good corporate reputation and strong employer brand?

A recent study found that 42 percent of the workforce now wants to work for an organization that has a positive impact on the world. This figure rises to 62 percent for younger workers. Similar research of “Best-in-Class employers” in Canada shows that building a positive employer brand is one of the most effective ways of ensuring an engaged and productive workforce.

Another study of employee attitudes across 24 countries found an average of 59 percent of Millennials would actively seek employers whose CSR values matched their own – rising to 70 percent in the U.S., and 82 percent in Hong Kong. Further research suggests 86 percent of Millennials would consider quitting if their employer’s CSR activities no longer met their expectations.

The Business Value Of CSR

Companies with the most engaged workforces are shown to outperform those with average employee engagement by as much as 50 percent. Engaged employees are also less likely to quit their jobs, and more likely to speak positively about their employer.

An organization’s commitment to CSR is an important factor in employee engagement. “If employees do not agree or strongly agree that their employer has strong CSR, they are not very likely to be engaged,” says Ken Oehler, Global Engagement Practice Leader at Aon. Oehler says that’s it not simply about an organization raising money or encouraging employees to donate time for good causes – it’s about what the organization stands for and how that purpose resonates with its workforce.

This “purpose,” in turn, can greatly enhance employee engagement: workers want to see the positive impact their actions – and the CSR programs of their employer – can have on the lives of others.

An organization’s commitment to CSR doesn’t just pay dividends in employee engagement; it’s also a necessity for the organizations and causes receiving assistance. “CSR programs allow for the chance to closely develop programs that are mutually beneficial – for our organization, for the sponsor, and most importantly, for our communities,” says Susan Nicholl, Executive Director, Special Olympics Chicago.

Learning From “Best” Employers

So what is it that leading companies do to garner positive praise from their employees, and build reputations and leading employer brands that attract the top talent?

“For many top employers, Corporate Social Responsibility is a core part of their employer brand and external corporate reputation focus,” says Neil Crawford, Canadian Talent Practice Leader at Aon. “Leading companies take a holistic approach to creating an employer brand and seek to align with their external brand and reputation.” One of the ways they can do this is by integrating their CSR strategy and activities into day-to-day operating principles.

Crawford, who consults with organizations that have obtained “Best Employer” status in Canada, points to three key areas:

  • Make CSR a part of recruitment: Be clear and specific about your approach to CSR, how it links your organization’s mission and values, and how employees’ employment experience is enriched through their involvement in your CSR activities
  • Give employees a voice: Create an opportunity for dialogue with employees and be willing to change course to ensure you are being true to your mission and values, and are aligned to employee perspectives
  • Respect boundaries: Accept that some employees prefer to pursue their involvement in community and other activities outside of work. Remember that these activities can be very personal and relate to an employee’s religious, ethnic or other cultural affinities

With the emphasis on communication, responsiveness, outreach, and providing a platform for genuine two-way engagement, it’s clear that companies leading the way have developed effective approaches for managing the perception of their brand as both a business and an employer.

The final point, however, is key. One size does not fit all – and the employers with the best reputations and greatest employee engagement tend to have a strong appreciation of and respect for the diversity of their workforce’s backgrounds and attitudes.

Building A Reputation For Inclusiveness

Workforces are becoming increasingly multi-generational and multi-ethnic reflecting the changing face of the consumer. Katherine Conway, Head of UK Diversity & Inclusion and Community Affairs at Aon notes, “Today’s consumer is different from decades past. In the UK alone, women are involved in 80% of consumer goods purchases and LGBT households are increasingly representing a mainstream and sizable consumer segment.” This change, Conway states, is a key force behind an organization’s need to ensure that their employees, those that serve a “new demographic”, is diverse.

In fostering a diverse workforce, organizations must openly embrace a new norm and work to dispel pre-existing biases. A recent U.S. survey found that the respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was the single most important contributing factor in job satisfaction. This is why, in an age of greater awareness of cultural differences and shifting socio-economic realities, businesses also need to think carefully about their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policies, and how they could impact their corporate reputations.

Conway says that companies are aware of the need to foster a more inclusive culture, as not only does this negatively impact employer brand but “they also risk losing customers and contracts as other firms become aware of their ethical stance.”

As the workforce becomes more global,  harnessing the difference of perspective of all employees is vital to for business continuity. “Encouraging an inclusive culture means all colleagues have a voice and feel valued, in turn, driving employee engagement, boosting productivity and performance,” Conway notes.

A recent McKinsey study confirms these findings: companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Diversity, the survey suggested, can help companies to strengthen customer orientation, increase employee engagement, improve decision-making, and enhance a company’s image. All of this can help boost performance – and make the company a more attractive place to work.

Becoming A More Diverse, Attractive, High-Performing Employer

But what do inclusive organizations really look like – and how can you achieve it?

“Being inclusive means being respectful to all individuals, and encouraging diversity of thought which can lead to greater creativity,” says Conway. “People from different backgrounds and with different lifestyles challenge each other more which leads to greater innovation and a depth of thought.”

She suggests three key approaches:

  • Encourage a culture of speaking up: Colleagues and managers must feel supported and comfortable to be able to challenge and call out exclusive behaviors
  • Demonstrate commitment to inclusion: Celebrate diversity and share successes of all colleagues who have achieved something special
  • Have a strong executive sponsor program and a solid allies program: Set these up for all business resource (or network) groups to encourage diversity of opinion and approach, and promote the benefits of sponsoring or being a member of these groups

Key to all this, however, is commitment.

Crawford warns that employers are at risk if they are not consistent and sincere in their practices and approaches. In an age of increasing transparency, he states, “People can now easily spot ‘spin.’ Employees want their employers to be authentic in their commitment to both CSR and D&I. “A strong – and authentic – employer brand is a key factor in engaging today’s employee as well preparing for tomorrow’s workforce.” Conway underscores this point: Ensuring that you are welcoming to tomorrow’s workforce is essential to meeting the needs of tomorrow’s customer – whatever it might look like.

Talking Points

“People are interested in working for a business that they believe has the same values that they do. We wouldn’t recruit the same calibre of people if we weren’t seen to be acting in a responsible way.” – Bob Thust, former Head of Corporate Responsibility, Deloitte

“Simply put, utilizing diversity as a strategic asset keeps an organization’s competitive edge sharp for the long haul. This makes diversity a prime source of sustainable competitive potential.” – Edward E. Hubbard, author, The Diversity Scorecard

“Real diversity and inclusion can deliver more engaged employees and customers, improved employee recruitment and retention, increase productivity and better group decision-making processes. Real inclusion saves money and improves efficiency in the systems of an organization.” – Stephen Frost, author, The Inclusion Imperative

“With the growing diversity within the workplace, leading organizations are customizing their employment experience to address the needs of an increasingly complex and segmented workforce.” – The Future of Engagement survey, Aon

Further Reading