Popularity blues

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Being branded as an 'employer of choice' is no easy feat, but for those companies that achieve this recognition the spoils of the title can be immense. Undoubtedly, they become more attractive to job seekers and instead of knocking on the doors of recruitment agencies to find staff, suddenly it's their doors receiving all the attention. However, with career opportunities and recognition being slow to pick up for some, and the GFC no longer striking fear into the hearts of employees, unsatisfied workers are searching for greener pastures once more. But where will these unsatisfied workers head to for career and workplace fulfilment? Countless candidates will see a company with attractive workplace branding as a lifeguard in rough surf and flock to the fun, rewarding and exciting culture, and therein lays the problem; they see the company and not the job role itself.

Popularity, as it turns out, is not as perfect as it seems and for some best employers the spoils of recognition can be over shadowed by HR challenges few saw coming. This was exactly the case for Sydney based financial services firm, Ezypay, who ranked 23rd on the 2010 BRW best places to work list, which was based on a comprehensive survey of employees by The Great Places to Work Institute.

Reality bites
For Ezypay's CEO, Trent Brown, there was a moment when he realized that with positively charged employer branding comes some unexpected negatives. "You don't entirely understand when you go for these things [employer branding] that there is actually going to be a downside. You think, 'wow this is all great' but you quickly realize that there are going to be some challenges."

For Brown those unexpected challenges came when he noticed a pattern emerging within the recruitment process. A large number of candidates that were applying for roles at Ezypay were doing so based on the company's fun, youthful and rewarding culture and not because they were attracted to the job role. Having studied both accounting and HR at university, Brown quickly identified that if Ezypay did not change its hiring strategy then the company would end up with a heavy string of bad hires and the escalating costs associated with them.

Brown was able to implement a 4-step recruitment process, one that ultimately saw Ezypay capitalize on their Best Employer status and serves as 'best practice' for other employers to follow.

Step 1: Let them do all the talking
Gaining nationwide exposure as an employer of choice means that companies enter the realm of extra candidate screening. However, HR managers must think outside the square with their approach. Instead of asking more questions, HR is better off listening to what the candidate is talking about; is the interview time consumed with talk about the company and its fun culture or is the candidate more focused on talking about the job role itself? This was exactly the approach Brown used with potential candidates vying for a job at Ezypay.

Brown says that hiring a person based on their cultural fit alone is a bad strategy. "They may be a great cultural fit but their longevity within the role might not be what it could be," he notes.

It is imperative for a successful hire that HR managers choose a candidate who is a good fit for the job role. Brown strongly believes that if an employee loves what they do then they will feel internally satisfied and more likely to enjoy their external environment. "We don't want people to come in and say 'I don't really mind what I do just as long as it is fun', as they don't recognize that their happiness is determined by what they do."

Step 2: Trials not tribulations
If a large proportion of candidates are only applying for a role to gain entry to a fun working environment then how do HR managers differentiate the thrill seekers from those genuinely seeking the specific role? As well as skilled screening during interviews, Brown implemented another strategy: trial periods.

Because of the nature of career roles at Ezypay (for example: customer service roles require empathy as Ezypay deals with people's personal financial details) trial periods are undertaken by all new candidates before management make the decision as to whether to offer the candidate a job or not.

Brown says these mini trial periods, which are usually 2 to 4 hours long, help the candidate experience the role without rose coloured glasses."We quickly learnt that we needed these trial periods because people are attracted to the exciting parts [of the company] and not necessarily the role. People sometimes come in with this illusion in their mind and it does not always fit the reality. That's why these trials have made a big impact," says Brown.

Step 3: Ezy does it  
Another successful strategy implemented at Ezypay was to never rush the hiring process. Brown accepts that some roles - such as those in customer service - have high turnover rates and highly skilled IT and senior level managerial roles can take 3 to 6 months or longer to fill.

Because Brown does not rush the recruitment process at Ezypay, he has protected the company against expensive bad hire costs. These costs can quickly escalate and often they do by surprize with advertizing and sourcing costs turning into ruthless figures. According to 2010 results published by recruitment firm Futurestep a manager with an annual salary of $100,000 will cost the company $60,000 if the hire goes bad within three months. This is even more reason why HR mangers at 'best employer' companies must be extra vigilant and take their time during the recruitment process. After reviewing the cost of a bad hire few could disagree that it is better a company have a vacant position for a little longer than deal with the effects of bad hire.

Step 4: Staff referrals
It is no secret that the most successful hires in a company are sourced from staff referrals. Brown recognized this strategy and went one step further at Ezypay by offering generous financial incentives to those who referred a successful candidate. Brown says that employees are often the best judges of character as to who would suit the workplace well.

"The benefit is they get to work with someone they know they are going to work well with. They also don't want to be in the situation where they're going to be unhappy working with that person. It gives them a sense of responsibility towards that person, so you know they're going to refer someone of quality."

Employer branding: Is it really worth the effort?
According to Kevin W Grossman, a principal at Glowan Consulting Group, all the effort employers put into making their organizations a great place to work are definitely worth the effort and this includes a company's financial investment being returned in spades. Research findings by the Glowan Institute state that money invested in companies making up the Fortunes annual 100 Best Companies to Work

For list would have returned nearly three times more than the same amount invested in S&P companies over a six year period.

Apart from having their financial investments exceeded, best employers enjoy a wide range of positive side effects that include:

  • economic resilience
  • high profitably and productivity
  • loyalty
  • greater creativity
  • less voluntary turnover
  • stress reduction
  • positive public perception
  • greater financial performance

Brown agrees with this positive notion and when asked if he would participate in another branding survey he replies enthusiastically, "Absolutely. In our first survey we scored 34% and in our last survey we scored 92%, our employees said they related directly to our company values. It shows what we're capable of doing and because we do them regularly, [staff and organization surveys] we get to regularly see our improvement."


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