The First Word: Is employer branding key to talent retention?

Andy Curlewis, managing director for brand, digital and communications for Cielo, explains what makes a good employer brand and how to enhance yours.

The workplace as we knew it, has perhaps transformed forever.

The blurring lines separating work and personal life, normalisation of remote and hybrid work, emergence of the gig economy and the constantly shifting corporate landscape has put a huge onus on retaining and engaging talent. Employees are the bedrock of any organisation. But in the face of sweeping trends like The Great Awakening to The Great Resignation – talent engagement has taken a new dimension of urgency.

One of the most effective yet sometimes neglected areas of engaging and retaining talent is employer branding. While vision, mission, reputation is at the core of a brand’s identity – how you are viewed as an employer is at the heart of the organisation. It lives and breathes in the culture of the brand and its people.

So, as we enter a new year, what makes a good employer brand?

Leadership that empowers

Often, people are attracted to an organisation because of its reputation and leave because leadership doesn’t live up to the expectation. Gone are the days when leaders were expected to focus on one thing – financial results. Building an authentic employer brand is a leadership imperative. To attract and retain the relevant talent the first step is to acknowledge its importance and make it a priority by the management team. When organisational leadership walks the talk and articulates the importance of people, their value to the organisation and its purpose gives a sense of meaning and trust.

Leadership backed by concrete initiatives and policies that are designed for employee welfare – training, upskilling, wellness, inculcating a culture of openness, advocacy and deep engagement benefits the entire organisation. Unilever, Standard Chartered, and OCBC Bank are great examples of brands in Singapore that are succeeding in their ability to not only attract new talent, but also retain their existing employees by being recognized as the 15 best workplaces to grow your career in Singapore in 2022.

The power of experience

In Southeast Asia, 43% of employees consider company culture to be a major factor in their search for job opportunities. These numbers give a clear indication of the importance of employee experience that builds company reputation, that impacts employer brand.

It is always crucial to constantly ‘market’ the company’s brand from within the organisation, as it helps to build the company’s strong reputation as a great place to work. By doing so, it would attract potential candidates and motivate existing employees to deliver better performance and contribute to the company’s image. This in turn would cause existing employees to promote the company as an ideal workplace to their ex-colleagues, friends and family, who may be looking for such a workplace. The employee brand experience should be an ongoing experience, hence the need for constant engagement throughout the employee’s life cycle with the company.

Add to that the culture of corporate empathy, where employees are heard, understood and valued. The chances are they will be willing to work harder, take advantage of the opportunities needed to further themselves and enable others to succeed, and likely to stay on with the company. The hallmark of any successful employee brand is to create the sense of belonging through active listening, feedback and action. This creates a positive employee experience where trust is paramount. An effective employer brand is also holistic and covers all phases of the employee lifecycle: attraction, interview and offer, onboarding and retention and post-exit, ensuring a positive engagement experience across all stages.

Content and communication

Content and the right software tools play a key role in communicating the messages that nurture employee experience leading to a stronger employer brand.

With the disproportional rise of digital traffic and consumption – if your message has to stick – it has to stand out from the clutter. Is it localised? Does it reflect the brand mission, values? Does it speak to the head and the heart? These are some of the questions that must be answered while creating engaging employee content. A strong social media presence and strategy backed by evocative content complemented by engaging website content can play a pivotal role in attracting both employees and customers.

Investment in building talent pools and talent pipelines with a focus on performance analytics, metrics and growth opportunities helps to track success as well as offer data insights for further enhancement.

Tips to adapt and enhance your branding

In 2023, it is more important than ever to emphasise on your branding. Your culture is your brand. Culture is crucial to employee happiness and performance. In times of unprecedented change, as we are going through now, it has never been more important than to focus on people. They are at the heart of every relationship. Here are a few quick tips to elevate and cement your employer brand.

  • Spotlight on your audience– To begin adapting and enhancing their branding, companies first need to know their audience. They have to identify and get to know their current and future employees, and even alumni. Practising corporate empathy and ‘stay interviews’ are some ways of improving communication with employees and building an inclusive workplace culture. Companies must also constantly reflect on their brand’s mission, vision, and values.

  • Personalisation and speed is key. There must be advanced career websites and CRM experiences to engage much larger talent pools in light of the pandemic that triggered the Great Resignation. Furthermore, besides focusing on branding and talent acquisition infrastructure, content and reputation management is equally important. Social media reputation management alongside content strategies can be pivotal in attracting both employees and customers. With the current work landscape of hybrid and remote work, there is an increase in social media engagement, hence the need for companies to have a stricter management of social media recruitment content.

  • Your Story – Investing in your organisation’s branding story and reputation both externally and internally are critical in attracting and retaining talent. In this new era of hiring talent, the mindset has already shifted – it’s no longer just about what and how candidates can add value to the organisation. There is a balance – an equal partnership between both employers and employees on how each can add value to each other.

By using an amalgamation of technology, creativity, statistical data and human interaction, leaders can ensure a holistic employee value proposition framework, to showcase the values for their current and prospective employees. Most importantly, the employer brand framework lays out the intrinsic and extrinsic values that the company will be able to provide prospective employees, such as the benefit of flexible work alongside a focus on mental health and wellbeing. Only then employees would feel supported and valued, which translates to their perception that they are working for an organisation with a good company culture.

About the author

Andy Curlewis, managing director – brand, digital and communications, Cielo

Andy Curlewis is the head of Cielo’s global employer brand division, which is in charge of marketing and communication strategies for global talent acquisition and management solutions firm.

He has over 20 years of brand consulting experience, spanning corporate, BPO and marketing agencies, including nine years at Cielo. He is passionate about helping organizations make the most of their brand and their talent – the two strategic assets that he believes can best differentiate the leaders from the laggards.

THE FIRST WORD is Chief of Staff Asia’s regular commentary, starting off every week with HR experts sharing their opinion on pressing issues. Do you have something to share with us? Email

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Chief of Staff Asia