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Published date: 2020/10

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Businesses across all industries have been forced to make a seemingly endless list of judgement calls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such decisions have concerned everything from processes and operations right through to advertising messages, as demonstrated when changed its “Be there. Do that. Get Rewarded.” slogan to “Just Stay Home” back in March. 

However, the most contentious decisions and actions are, understandably, those that involve employees. As previously discussed, the way employers have treated their staff during the pandemic will be the ‘acid test’ for candidates, and we’re pleased that many are getting it right. According to a May survey from You Gov, 84 per cent of British employees felt their employer’s actions in the face of the virus have been positive, with over a third (36 per cent) stating the actions taken were ‘excellent’.

In the spirit of positivity, let’s take a look at some of the high profile brands that publicly nailed their employer branding and went the extra mile during the pandemic. 

Normalising working from home 

We’re used to drinks brand Innocent demonstrating its comedy chops, whether on the side of their smoothie bottles or across social media, and lockdown was no exception. At a time when much was being written about the viability of working from home, Innocent posted an update poking fun at its quirks: 

“We don’t normally attend meetings in our leopard print dressing gowns, and our boss doesn’t usually bring their kids. Our tea round is smaller than before, and it turns out we’re quite capable of getting distracted without coworkers.” 

The company also took the time to highlight the efforts of its staff during this time. It detailed how everyone had gone above and beyond to support a wide range of causes, from donating unsold smoothies through to starting charitable initiatives in their local neighbourhoods. 

What this tells us

Each message hammered home Innocent’s care and appreciation of its people, and publicly embracing home working from the outset was a great way to help employees feel valued and secure. 

Helping less fortunate industries 

We only have to look back at the March toilet roll wars and mile-long queues to know that most supermarkets have done pretty well out of the pandemic. However, Co-op Food demonstrated empathy for a less fortunate sector when it announced it was creating 5,000 store-based jobs to provide temporary employment for hospitality workers who had been laid off during the outbreak. 

At the time, CEO Jo Whitfield said: “It makes perfect sense for us to try and temporarily absorb part of this highly skilled and talented workforce who are so adept at delivering great customer service, as we work together to feed the nation.” 

The company also removed barriers to entry by allowing candidates to apply by walking into their nearest Co-op and start work in a matter of days, as opposed to having to apply online through a central hub. 

What this tells us 

By demonstrating its appreciation of the skills possessed by hospitality workers, Co-op Foods reinforced the high standards of its own staff, which likely went a long way in helping them feel valued and appreciated.  

And finally...a sad outcome handled impeccably 

Like many hospitality specialists, Airbnb was hit hard by the pandemic. In May, the company announced it would have to downsize 25 per cent of its workforce - one of the most significant layoffs in Silicon Valley. 

In the face of such bad news, the company was heralded for the way it handled the situation. Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky sent a heartfelt note to employees, which you can read in full here

Not only did Airbnb outline a generous severance package and support that extended beyond the redundancy notice period for displaced employees, but Chesky was utterly transparent in why such a decision had been reached and the next steps. More than anything else, his empathetic and compassionate tone of voice demonstrated genuine care for his employees. Here’s how he signed off the lengthy post: 

To those leaving Airbnb, 

I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb…that helped make Airbnb. I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us.


What this tells us 

Not every story is a happy one. Airbnb demonstrated that, even when times are tough, situations can be handled with complete honesty and the utmost sensitivity. What should have been a negative story about job losses turned into something very different when Chesky’s note went public. 

Employer branding during and after COVID-19

How businesses handle the impact of coronavirus on employees will have a lasting effect on employer branding in the years to come. Our free eBook - Great Expectations - looks at the changing needs of employees in a post-pandemic world. Download your copy today