At the end of March, as the corona crisis was nearing its peak, the managing director of a medium-sized Berlin real estate agency had what he thought was a brilliant idea. He wanted to give sluggish apartment viewings a boost and motivate his employees to up their game, so he promised all sales staff a one-off bonus for each viewing they organized and doubled their commission for any condominium sales – all paid out of his own pocket. He wanted his company’s customers to see that the company is still there for them. And for his employees to appreciate that their boss could be generous even in the midst of a crisis. He also wanted to send a strong signal to his competitors: We are still here and we are still one step ahead! As far as he was concerned, he was creating a win-win-win situation that he could communicate both inside and outside the company: We are working hard, we don’t care about the crisis.
Coping with trauma
I wouldn’t be surprised if his employees turned their backs on the company at the next best opportunity. In my opinion, the managing director has done the greatest possible disservice to Employer Branding. Why? Because his behavior flies in the face of scientific expertise and ignores the true needs of his employees and customers. The fact is that the coronavirus crisis, like no other crisis before it, has exposed deep-seated feelings of fear, insecurity and uncertainty. People fear not only for their jobs and livelihoods, but also for their health and the well-being of their families and friends. And no one knows how long the crisis will last. To reduce the Covid-19 pandemic to hand hygiene and working from home for a few weeks would be doing everyone a massive disservice. This crisis has impacted our core values. It’s like an earthquake: For weeks, months or even years after the initial shock, you constantly question whether the ground under your feet is really firm. A psychologist would refer to such an experience as a trauma – the massive psychological shock that impacts the subconscious long after the traumatic event itself has passed. Closing your eyes to it inevitably leads – again in psychological terms – to post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). On the other hand, if you recognize the situation, accept it and take the right measures, you have a chance to move beyond the trauma and emerge stronger than ever before.
The crisis is an opportunity
What does all this have to do with Employer Branding? An awful lot. The biggest crises present companies with the biggest opportunities to elevate their employer brand to an entirely new level. Where it would normally take a company many years to create a positive, value-oriented corporate culture, now is the unique opportunity to do so in the shortest possible time. Brands that succeed in authentically conveying security, trust and empathy will forever be etched into the memories of their employees and customers. And it almost goes without saying that customers’ trust and the commitment and motivation of employees will be the keys to emerging from the post-corona economic fallout stronger than ever before and with a consolidated employer brand. The crisis is therefore the perfect moment for all of us to review, rethink and improve the way we work together and communicate with our employees, customers, partners and investors.
Wise words & deeds
There is at least one international real estate company that has grasped this: In early March, the company’s managing director addressed a letter to his 300 or so employees and began with the following words: “I hope you, your families and your loved ones are all well. I am writing to you today from my home office. While none of this is easy for any of us, I promise to provide you with regular updates as the situation develops and we introduce new health and safety protocols over the next few weeks. First of all, though, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to you all. At this most difficult of times, you are doing great things. I am very optimistic that together we will not only overcome this crisis, we will emerge even stronger (…)”. These four sentences, which convey empathy, security, gratitude, cohesion and confidence, are more than their weight in gold. Incidentally, this Viennese managing director kept his word and stayed in regular contact with his employees, customers and partners and was himself an active front man. The fact that business has picked up again more quickly in his company than in other companies is not surprising. Nor is the fact that his employees have returned to their corona-proofed offices earlier than required – in large numbers and of their own accord. Given all this, it should come as no surprise that his company has led the European Real Estate Brand Institute rankings for so many years.