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Recession-Proof Your 2023 Employer Brand & Culture Strategy: Trends & Predictions

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

By: Chelsea Howard, Founder, Drift Employer Brand

Globally, the theme of 2022 workplace & culture strategy was chaos and confusion. Amidst daily news of layoffs, the cost of living crisis and record-high inflation rates (at least here in Canada), HR leaders were tasked with finding ways to continue to attract, engage and retain top talent.

A few months back, we published a post called “Fortifying Your Employer Brand Strategy During an Economic Slowdown” where we unpacked the importance of investing intentionally in your employer brand, even in uncertain times. We are in the Age of the Employee as well as the Age of Information - that means, even a major layoff is a key touchpoint in the employer brand narrative of a company.

How you treat your people during the most chaotic, challenging times is a key benchmark for how future talent evaluate you.

Now, it’s time to look at the year ahead and plan. It’s not going to get any easier to meet the shifting landscape of the global workforce head-on with intention and strategic direction. But, that’s what workforce strategists, culture creators and employee experience advocates do. In the employer brand space, the most valuable type of research you can do is delving into economic trends and forecasts, aligning your recommendations and roadmaps to what you see as emerging workforce influences. The shift toward hybrid work, for example, is still an ongoing conversation. Will it stay? Will it fade out? Many who initially embraced remote work in early-COVID found themselves reminiscing fondly about the social aspect of work. So, organizations found themselves in need of work space programs that incorporate the ‘human voice of digital’ - giving employees more choice, streamlined technologies and enhanced opportunities to connect.

In fact, we can probably go ahead and say that choice has emerged as an indelible lever of the employee experience, more than ever before. Employees want choice in how they show up to work, set their boundaries, voice their ideas and concerns, grow their career and more. Organizations that lead the evolution of workplace culture understand this, and are actively renovating their cultures toward environments where psychological safety, belonging and choice are key drivers of experience.

The editors of the Collins English Dictionary have declared “permacrisis” to be their word of the year for 2022. Defined as an “an extended period of instability and insecurity”, it is an ugly portmanteau that accurately encapsulates today’s world as 2023 dawns. (The Economist, 2022)

Many reputable economic forecasts are asserting that a global recession is inevitable in 2023. Our world is still reeling and healing from the broad-based slow down, mass labour shortages, and disparate employment growth. HR leaders and strategists will be challenged to continue building the internal culture, employee engagement and the external employer brand, possibly in the face of more hiring freezes and layoffs.

What does all this mean? It means that data and insights about talent pools and the global economy will become an essential component to informing HR strategy. It also means that many organizations will likely turn their employer branding efforts internal, focusing on building unshakeable cultures and signature experiences for employees that will fuel future talent strategy. In all likelihood, there will be disparate, tough-to-predict hiring speed-ups and slow-downs, meaning employer brand strategists will need to be prepared with more flexible, grassroots tactics designed to respond to the shifting needs of the business functions they support. So, pretty much like every other year, right?

Well, this has been a little dark.

Apologies, but it’s always best to start from a place of clear-eyed understanding about the hurdles we are facing, collectively. Now is the time for cross-industry sharing of knowledge around cultural evolution and renovation. Organizations that are leading the way, both from an employee experience and a corporate social responsibility perspective, will hopefully share their practices and inspire a global move toward seeing workplace culture as a key driver of performance, satisfaction and shareholder value. Luckily, there is an incredible global community of workforce strategists and employer brand aficionados that are dedicated to creating a breadth of knowledge that will drive widespread adoption of human-centric people practices.

Here are Drift’s top predictions for key practices, tactics and strategic focus areas for employer branding in 2023.

  1. Lead with Values Now, more than ever, employees need to go back to basics and revisit their core identity. The Purpose conversation is highly relevant here. Across all drivers of the candidate experience, leading companies in 2023 will make tough decisions to stay in alignment with their values, and reap the long-term ROI of being an intentional, values-based company. Advice for 2023: Revisit all your policies, hiring practices, employee communications and employer brand platforms and ask the question - does this align with our core identity and values as an organization? What do we stand for? And, how do we share that story?

  2. Embrace All Diversity We know so much more about the ED&I discipline now than we did even just five years ago. Diversity means so much more than your culture, ethnicity or gender identity (understand: those aspects of representation are critically important to your business). True diversity is about inherent traits as well as acquired uniqueness. Leading organizations in 2023 will find more flexibility and openness to new perspectives and ways of thinking in all their talent practices, moving toward workforce diversity in its truest sense.

  3. Access Global Talent It has never been more possible to burst onto the global hiring scene and capture the imagination of new talent pools in different markets to help accomplish your goals. Organizations that leaned into remote and hybrid work in 2022 can now capitalize on new technologies, policies and practices that will enable access to talent in different parts of the world. Advice for 2023: If you haven’t already, pilot a global hiring program and explore platforms like iWorker or Global Skills Hub to help you get the most out of the worldwide workforce.

  4. Explore Transmedia What’s transmedia, you ask? Well, it’s an exciting way to frame a media strategy for your employer brand that offers more cohesive opportunities for compelling storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. Your future talent needs to know who you are and how you treat your people before they make a decision about exploring a career with you. Tell stories with multimedia and bring continuity to your culture narrative by delving into new technologies and methods of cross-platform brand storytelling. Advice for 2023: Audit your employer brand platforms and commit to introducing one new platform and one new mode of messaging (ie. video, micro-blogging, talent advocacy).

Now, let’s hear from the experts… here are some ideas for 2023 employer brand strategy from some of the top thinkers and influencers in the discipline today:

The big focus in 2023 will be to turn our EVP outside-in and keep encouraging and cultivating employee voices in telling our story. (Anna Bertoldini, Global Head of Employer Branding at NielsenIQ)

Even if you aren’t hiring, you can still work on “The New Corporate Currency” (Kevin Oakes, Culture Renovation). The New Corporate Currency is a term that describes the link between purpose, culture and brand. Purpose shapes the organizational culture and employee experience. Your employees, when engaged with your purpose, will help you tell the story of your culture. “Like the old adage ‘the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,’ the New Corporate Currency showcases what most savvy senior executives already know: a company can only achieve greatness if its purpose, culture and brand are in sync,” said Joan Amble, board member at Zurich Insurance, Sirius XM Holdings and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Get back to basics. You can't mean everything to everyone and you can't be like the others, nor should you be. Focus on the small, yet impactful things that you do and offer your people or future teammates. (Alex Her, Global Employer Brand Storyteller, GoDaddy)

Consider running innovative pilots in 2023, trying new technologies, platforms and finding compelling ways to share the real, honest story of your culture. Revisit (and, if necessary, reimagine) your EVP to include the most important aspects of your culture. Decide what the signature aspects of your culture are and how you will share those key experiences in a compelling way for your future talent and current employees.

Get the internal story right first. If you can't engage your people, you have no business trying to engage your prospects. (Brian Chaney, Talent Branding, Enablement, and Culture Strategist, Workrise)

Settle on the ‘life force’ of your employer brand. What do you want employees to feel as a member or your organization? What do you want them to believe about the future of the organization. Answer these questions and engage with intention and curiosity. Employee listening is a great strategy to invest in this year. Even during a hiring freeze or in the wake of a mass layoff, you can always ask your employees what they love, what they would change and where they see the most opportunity for culture renovation. Then, do what they tell you to do.

Democratize employer branding. It shouldn't be just for big companies or startups flush with cash. It is for EVERY company. (James Ellis, Employer Brand Nerd, Employer Brand Labs)

No matter your budget or the size of your organization, you have an employer brand narrative. Another way to think of this: your employer brand exists whether you engage with it or not. There are tons of compelling ways to tell you culture story through grassroots, organic marketing tactics. Your career site can be your flagship employer brand platform and, if done right, can fuel an incredible content strategy and funnel top talent toward your roles in a streamlined, cost-effective way. The lesson for 2023 - there will always be challenges and roadblocks. Don’t let the size of your company or budget dictate how your culture narrative shows up on key platforms.

Empathy and compassion if/when firing. Without it, all previous employer brand efforts are in vain. (Georgiana Ghiciuc, PhD, Founder, Beaglecat)

Unless you recently took over Twitter, hopefully you consider decency and humanity to be core concepts that govern your employee experience. With a recession imminent, there will be more tough times and tough decisions. Vulnerable, transparent communication, honesty, kindness and support through these tough decisions will propel your employer brand forward. Opaque communication, heartlessness and a lack of care for your employees as human beings will be seen, felt and impact future talent decisions. You don’t want to be that company going into 2024.

Through all this, one thing is certain. HR must remain firmly ensconced at leadership tables and the ‘people’ pillar of business strategies will become more robust, strategic and influential in how leading companies attract, retain and engage talent as we look ahead to a year of new challenges.

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