Season’s greetings? Building an employer brand with the Christmas temps

Christmas for many sectors means an influx of temporary workers. But to what degree should the employer brand be considered if the temps will be on their way in a matter of weeks? Georgina Fuller reports.

Organisations employing seasonal workers will already have welcomed a new batch of staff to help them oversee the busy Christmas period. As office parties and shopping frenzies gain momentum, it is arguably even more important to make your temporary staff brand ambassadors during such a busy time. But what are companies doing to promote their employer brand within this group, and how can HR professionals help raise their company’s profile among temporary staff?

Legal Q&A: Are “zero-hours contracts” an alternative to the use of agency workers?

In a recent survey on employment trends, the CBI reported that the increased costs and complexity brought about by the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 have resulted in more than half of companies reducing their use of agency workers and one in 12 stopping using agency workers altogether. Employment lawyer Julia Williams looks at “zero-hours contracts” as a potential alternative to the use of agency workers.

It’s about giving all staff a positive employee experience which is clearly aligned to the company brand and objectives, according to Brett Minchington, chairman/CEO of consultancy Employer Brand International: “Over the past five years, companies have evolved their people focus from employee satisfaction to employee engagement. In 2013, it will be about ’employee experience’.”

Brand alignment

Employers need to ensure that their entire employee “lifecycle”, from pre-hire to retire, is aligned with the corporate and consumer brand.

“For companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Tesco and Hilton Hotels, an effective seasonal worker strategy is a key driver of their employer brand due to the large volume of hires these organisations recruit annually,” Minchington says. “If the employer brand strategy is not aligned with the overall business strategy, it will have a major impact on the bottom line.”

Organisations need to provide an environment where employees can “bring the brand to life” through customer-focused policies and by training staff on how to deliver what Minchington describes as “the brand promise”. This should be supported by up-to-date feedback and internal and external market insights about what people think of the company and the brand as a whole.

“Where companies fall down is relying on insights that are out of date and no longer relevant to the target audience,” Minchington adds.

Potential customers

Major retailers, such as John Lewis, recognise that the line between customer and employee has become increasingly blurred and that the two are intrinsically linked. John Lewis tries not to differentiate between permanent staff (known as partners) and temporary workers, as all are potential customers.

Carole Donaldson, recruitment manager at John Lewis, explains: “We constantly look at how the customer and employer brand can support each other to promote John Lewis both as an employer of choice and a great place to shop. We are keenly aware that candidates are potential advocates for us and, more importantly, our customers.”

While the application and recruitment process is the same for both seasonal temps and permanent partners at John Lewis, seasonal workers are given a more streamlined induction process as certain elements, such as benefits, are not applicable to them, explains Donaldson: “We recruit for temporary staff and permanent recruits in an identical way as we are after the same skills and awareness of customer needs from all our staff, permanent or temporary. We also recognise that a number of candidates who start as temps may well become permanent partners at some point in the future.”

Seasonal employees

Tina Lewis, director of people and legal services at the National Trust, says the charity is expecting to recruit around 4,000 additional seasonal employees from December 2012, from gardeners to catering staff: “We think it’s important to ensure that anyone who works with us, or volunteers with us, reflects our organisational values and become ambassadors for our organisation. Unlike many other employers, our ‘season’ is mainly from Easter through to October, when all our properties are fully open and visitor numbers are at their peak.”

The National Trust uses both a central and individual approach to employer branding, with individual properties advertising their own seasonal vacancies and, over the last year, marketing all temporary jobs on their website alongside permanent roles.

“We think that overlaying a central branding-awareness campaign gives the best of both worlds – telling the great story of working for the National Trust as an employer, while enabling properties to have a local feel in line with our overall brand,” Lewis says.

Gaining work experience

Many of the National Trust’s seasonal staff return the following year, and all are welcome to apply for internal vacancies advertised on the company intranet.

Lewis believes that temporary roles can also be a very effective way to gain work experience in specific areas, and that the flexibility appeals to a wide range of employees: “We always have a range of hours from part time to full time, weekdays only, weekends only, depending on what the property needs – and we offer flexible working patterns wherever possible.”

When it comes to communicating your employer brand, however, the channels and language you use to engage with different employees may vary considerably, according to Andrew Wilkinson, chief executive at recruitment firm TMP Worldwide: “An employer brand is the articulation of a company’s personality, values and ambition, and this would not change whether you are after temporary labour or senior management. But the language may vary as the depth of engagement you would seek with a department head would be different from the engagement you might expect from a short-term, part-time employee.”

Employee value proposition

If, for example, your employee value proposition (EVP) is based largely on job security or developing employees, you may need to consider how you convey this to temporary workers, explains Wilkinson: “Your EVP might require some careful wording to not send mixed messages to a temporary audience.”

Tapping into a temporary workforce can also give employers access to a larger, more diverse pool than the one they typically recruit from, adds Wilkinson: “It can be a great opportunity for an employer to use these temps as a channel to ‘share’ their employer brand with a wide group of potential new recruits. This would require some ‘tools’ for sharing, whether that be cards, emails or even a reward-based referral programme.”

The advent of the increasingly important employee experience, combined with the growing ubiquity of social media sites, means that employers and their practices are more visible and accountable than ever. Short-term workers who are not on the permanent payroll, are, perhaps, more likely to comment and voice their views on Twitter and Facebook, so employers need to be extra vigilant.

Brand promise

As Minchington says: “Candidates and employees now have a range of social media tools at their disposal to test whether  companies are delivering on their brand promise or whether it’s simply a well-designed ‘above-the-line’ brand that looks and feels great but in reality doesn’t come anywhere close to the day-to-day reality of the ‘on-the-job’ experience”.

So, whether it’s for a few weeks over Christmas or to support a longer-term project, forward-thinking employers increasingly recognise that it is just as important to build a brand with their temporary workers as it is for permanent staff, ensuring the experience makes them valuable brand ambassadors and loyal customers.

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