November 15, 2016 | Kelly

Communism failed, so does Fascism (eventually) and so will Populism but there’s an Employer Brand message staring us in the face right now.

Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949), First Communist Leader of Bulgaria

There’s nothing like writing a speech for an audience in a new market – particularly one which was under Soviet rule for 45 years.  Just being face to face with history can prompt a whole new angle.

That was true for me in Sofia 4th November talking with 160 Bulgarian business people. One of my themes was the challenge of involving and engaging people outside the established world of full-time employment. If you are in the gig economy – where people work with little employment protection – your loyalty is only to yourself. Naturally, you will not have the feelings of engagement and family in the way a full-time employer (FTE) might expect.

There are now millions of working people out there in the blue beyond the emotional reach of an employer. Some may be doing fine but many have real difficulty as the BBC Inside Out programme 11th Nov on AHC Services drivers for Amazon demonstrated. There are millions like these who feel excluded around the world and for whom the concept of the Employer Brand is a bad joke. Or worse, the phrase may prompts memories of belonging to an organisation they once felt a part of. Are these not the feelings of so many who voted Brexit in the UK or Trump in the USA?

We have been here before. In Sofia, I visited the Museum for Socialist Art in Sofia which has gathered the artefacts of Bulgaria’s time as a Communist state (1944-1989). It’s a drab place surrounded by tower block housing. Outside are statues of workers , manfully straining, and leaders 9 metres high like Lenin and Bulgaria’s Georgi Dimitrov. These used to dominate the streets of downtown Sofia. Not anymore.

Inside were vast oil paintings of adoring crowds on great occasions. It brought home to me how powerful the original pitch for Communism was at a time when leaders thought workers did not need to be listened to or treated as fellow citizens. To quote Arthur Koestler it was of course ‘The God that failed’ but communism was certainly a God in its time. Something dictator driven fascism has never been.

2016 voters think they are miles away from communism and fascism yet what prompted the unrest and anger is back. People want to be listened to, be understood and feel they matter but clearly, millions feel excluded. They do not feel they belong and they’re angry. Small wonder Populism has flourished.

Employer Brand thinking is aimed at helping employers bring the best of brand management to people at work to better attract, retain and motivate their teams and change whatever is necessary to create a great working experience.  I know how hard it is to give much thought to the many who are unlikely to ever be full-time employees. It’s someone else’s problem.

But that is why we are so close to a two-nations divide which will damage life for all of us. History is peppered with the dangers of ignoring widespread concerns. These citizens cannot be ignored by government or employers.  Furthermore, these concerns are going to get worse as technology takes out the need for more great tranches of employment -think of drivers or call centre workers.  We need the life blood of true liberal democracy and Populism is too blunt an approach to achieve the best of capitalism, government intervention and respect for leadership valued for what they do for society overall.  Some indicated action:

  1. It’s surely worth exploring how Employer Brand thinking in individual organisations can reach out the hand of human interest to those they may not employ starting with their freelancers and self-employed. There are parallels here with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, in which he shows great concern for fellow citizens but no way can we return to the 18th
  2. Good employers think beyond their target audience and play a more active role in national agendas and political thinking.
  3. Employers can be great campaigners for the public good. Think about Unilever’s focus on sustainability. But other issues are just as immediate, eg ‘employability’ and ‘education’- think of McDonald’s record. Aiming for shareholder value alone will never produce maximum value unless it is in the context of a trusted business.

Business needs society to be in good shape and that is in part an Employer role as well as Government.  We demonstrated our wilful blindness in not listening, caring and acting. As a result, up comes populism, nationalism and self-Interest the enemies of promise for democracy  and successful business. All of us need to make this case.

Otherwise, it won’t be much fun for any of us given millions of troubled people on both sides of the drawbridge.

Simon Barrow