Employer branding: Millennials don’t just want to work for money

Scientific reports show that a brand with a social purpose is more likely to keep its employees happier and motivated.

Here, Chieu Cao, co-founder of employee benefits platform Perkbox says a strong company purpose can be just as important than traditional benefits such as salary and bonus.

Employer branding is as vital as your consumer marketing to attract and retain a talented, diverse workforce. This applies at two levels: when looking to attract the best talent and once you have that talent, to engage with it across the entire employee life cycle.

But becoming a brand employer must be reflected in every aspect of a business and be integrated at all levels.

While many organisations have put together their mission, vision and values, it’s rare to see companies that have gone beyond that to look into the importance of building a brand on ‘purpose’ – not only for customers but also for their current and new flux of employees.

Why is purpose important and how can we go about achieving one that resonates with our employees?

The meaning of brand purpose

The purpose of a brand is the idealistic view of what you want to become to your audience inside and outside your organisation. With the values, it defines the soul of the company and engages people emotionally.

The biggest mistake that organisations often face is assuming that their brand purpose is the same thing as their ultimate business goal. As important as it is, it’s not the same thing.

Purpose must originate from a place of passion, it’s what pushes you to do what you do. You need to think about what you believe in and what you’re willing to fight for for it to emerge.

When identified correctly and passed on to the rest of the team, it creates a brand that nurtures the relationship amongst employees turning them into believers of the brand.

The value it brings to employees

There’s certainly no shortage of headlines about millennials searching for jobs that offer a strong sense of meaning. Without a purpose employees feel lost. They become unhappy, unmotivated and start focusing just on making money or getting through their day so that they can get on with hobbies and outside interests. This is unsustainable.

A good employer brand is one that makes its employees emotionally attached to their business rather than just seeing it as a job. If companies can connect to individuals at an emotional level they can align more closely to their life goals. The more human you make your business’ sense of purpose, the more your employees will see this as a meaningful relationship rather than just a transactional one. This will in turn, help your company focus on all other efforts – financial, cultural, wellbeing.

A brand purpose also means employees have a clear idea of how they want their company to be perceived. It encourages collaboration between departments as they see clear goals to work towards and find ways to achieve them together. A purpose is not just a motivational tool, it’s also a great management tool.

Moreover, a sense of purpose helps brands thrive even in times of uncertainty. You’re showing your employees that both you and them are in there for more than just surviving the circumstances that you are currently facing.

Building a purposeful brand

For me one of the most exceptional examples of a brand moving towards its true purpose is Airbnb. The company began as a couch-surfing and low-cost lodging company and properly hit upon its purposes in 2014: ‘to make people around the world feel like they could belong anywhere’.  

Airbnb’s story is a great illustration of a company that has created a purpose that is driven throughout the whole business, from identity through to communication into the core product. The brand wanted people to go on a journey to become a more complete version of themselves and ultimately used the power of humanity to drive that.

The Airbnb case also shows that success doesn’t always happen immediately, you often need to refine the whole mix to get it right.

The challenges ahead

The world of work is changing dramatically and with it the shape of the workforce is too. In particular, with the rise of the so called ‘gig economy workers’ – i.e. a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

Whilst gig economy workers enjoy their increased flexibility they also feel like they are giving up some degree of security and structure in their lives for it. As a result, they are likely to be more individualistic in their approach to work and less likely to be interested in following the brand’s purpose and protecting it. It will therefore take more creativity to motivate and engage these members of staff through a brand purpose.

In addition to this, traditional methods of incentivisation – the salary, the bonuses, a standard health-insurance package or a cycle-to-work scheme – just don’t make the cut anymore for most employees. Science tells us that intrinsic motivation, when there is interest, enjoyment and a real purpose behind a task, is what really drives satisfaction at work today.

Some companies have already recognised this and attempted to design complex incentive solutions to change. Take Uber for example with its psychological tricks to keep drivers on the road for longer. However, the bottom line, remember, should always be the brand purpose not the ultimate business goal as is the case here.

It might take time to find and it might evolve over time – like Airbnb’s did- but when correctly identified and passed on to the rest of the team, a brand truly ‘on purpose’ translates into a brand that nurtures the relationship amongst employees and turns them into fans.

It’s worth it.

Further reading on branding

Are you ready for cause branding?


Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2018 to 2019.

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