HR managers know it all too well: attracting and retaining the right talent is a challenge. In a post-pandemic era, this challenge has become even more intense.

Despite the huge impact on our healthcare system and daily lives, Europe managed to recover rather quickly from the economic impact of COVID-19. Unemployment rate in the eurozone hit a record low of 7% at the end of 2021. It further decreased to 6.8% in March 2022, compared to 8.2% twelve months before (European Commission).

At the same time, the number of vacant jobs has been increasing. In Q4 2021, the job vacancy rate in the EU was 2.6% compared to 1.8% in the same period a year before. The highest rates were recorded in Czechia (4.9%), Belgium (4.7%) and The Netherlands (4.2%) (Eurostat).

With an overflow of job vacancies in a tight labour market, it’s no easy task for companies to make themselves and the job vacancies they are promoting stand out. Employer branding is key in “the war on talent”. An element that can significantly help companies differentiate themselves is sustainability.

In this article, we will look in more detail at employer branding, its link with sustainability, and the ways in which you can use sustainable development to market your company as a great place to work.

What is employer branding?

Employer branding is the way in which a company markets itself as an employer to job seekers and its own employees. If a company is good at employer branding, it can attract and retain talent better. Employer branding also boosts employee engagement, as it allows employees to identify with the company more easily and, as such, become more involved in the business.

There are many other benefits of recruiting and cultivating engaged employees. It boosts job satisfaction, bolsters the company culture, and increases productivity, which in turn improves customer satisfaction.

Sustainability and employer branding

Our surroundings are increasingly showing us the devastating effects of climate change. In the summer of 2021, flooding, draughts, and forest fires provided an almost daily reminder that time is running out to safeguard the future of our planet. The recent findings of the IPCC report only highlight this urgency.

In parallel, people are getting more vocal about societal issues. They reach for their phones to battle gender inequality on social media or take to the streets to protest for justice. Companies that fail to voice their stance on a specific topic, feel the repercussions. A survey by Deloitte showed that over one third of Millennials and Generation Z would stop a relationship with a business because of the lack of ethical behaviour (Deloitte).

This environmental and social consciousness reverberates in people’s job search. For many, particularly for Gen Z, work is no longer only about salary. Instead, they want to find a job that pays attention to their own wellbeing and professional growth. They want a job that gives them a wider societal purpose. Consequently, they look to work in companies that invest in sustainable development.

Between 2019 and 2021, about half of Millennials and Generation Z chose to work within organisations that align with their personal values. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, 15% even gave up their job or chose to pursue a new career for this reason (Deloitte).

In this context, it comes as no surprise that companies try to put forward sustainability to attract candidates. At Sustenuto, we have also noticed the growing importance of employer branding as an argument for sustainability.

Since the pandemic, our customers explicitly cite employer branding as an important reason to develop a sustainability strategy. Employer branding now takes up 25% of the motivations for investing in sustainable development.

Sustainability in the job market

Employer branding has become one of the key reasons to develop a sustainability strategy.

Companies answer job seekers’ thirst for purpose and impact by incorporating more sustainability in job functions. Between 2016 and 2019, the most in-demand “green” jobs remained typical profiles such as Sustainability Manager and Environmental Health and Safety Manager[1].

Yet, less specialised jobs that incorporate a sustainable angle witnessed the fastest increase[1]. Think, for example, about a vacancy for a Technical Sales Representative, in which the company requests a “keen interest in and attention to sustainability”.

A study by Randstad in 2021 nuanced the importance of sustainable development as one of the criteria in job selection[2]. The study’s findings show that the top 3 criteria remain salary and advantages, work environment, and job security. One third of respondents indicated CSR as an important job criterion. One fourth thinks this of diversity.

Of course, the criterion “work environment” can depend, if only partly, on a company’s attention to the social aspects of sustainable development: lifelong learning, employee wellbeing, decent work, company values and culture.

A recent study by digital platform Treedom also underlines the importance of sustainability in an employee’s job search. Of the 7,000 employees they surveyed, 67% considers sustainability an important factor when choosing which job to apply for. The survey highlights that employees look for three things in particular:

  1. They want to be proud of the company they work for (29%)
  2. Ensure the protection of the planet for future generations (29%)
  3. Have a positive impact on the environment (24%)

Sustainability in employer branding

Incorporating sustainable requirements in job functions is one thing. But if a company keeps it at that level, it will certainly and quickly be ousted as greenwashing. Instead, it is a matter of truly incorporating plans to meet social and environmental needs through the business activities.

Furthermore, the study by Treedom underlines the need to communicate sustainability efforts to internal audiences. More than two thirds of the 7,000 European employees did not know whether their company had an environmental policy. Yet, 64% want to know more to ensure a better future for the generations to come.

All that remains, once your sustainability strategy and implementation plan are up and running, is communicating it to the right audiences:

  • Explaining your sustainable ambitions and plans to your employees will make sustainability more tangible and allow them to get involved and do their part in reaching the goals.
  • Transparent communication to the external world will in turn build the company’s reputation and position it as a great employer in the job market.

By making sustainability an integral part of the business strategy and consequently talking about ambitions and efforts, companies are strongly positioned to engage top talent and nurture a loyal workforce.

Get started with sustainability communications with our five foundations.

[1] Source: Global Green Skills Report 2022 – LinkedIn Economic Graph

[2] Source: randstad employer brand research 2021