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GUEST COMMENT Employer branding: how retail can hold the top spot

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You could be excused if your faith in the retail sector is a little lacklustre at the moment. The beginning of the summer saw a stream of controversial news stories hitting the headlines, dominated by the demise of BHS. But it’s not all doom and gloom: our latest research shows that retailers are amongst the most sought-after employers by UK professionals.

Retailers make up almost half of the top twenty-five companies that UK professionals engage with most on LinkedIn. John Lewis tops the list, with other retailers such as Harrods, ASOS, and Burberry follow closely behind – indicating that the sector’s appeal to the UK workforce is still alive and kicking.

This is fantastic news for the retail sector, but retail needs to work hard to retain its place at the top of the employee wish list. We know that retail professionals in this country are particularly prone to itchy feet, with 8% making a move in the past year – double the UK average. And our data reveals that not all are staying in the industry either. A number of other sectors are waking up to the talent that exists in the retail space and poaching it for their own – with the apparel and fashion, info tech and services, and financial services sectors leading the charge.

Reputation matters

So what does this mean for retail? One thing that all these sought-after companies have in common is an outstanding employer brand.

Developing a positive reputation as an employer is an important starting point for any retailer. Put simply, a poor employer brand can make it harder to find the right people to fill roles, put potential employees off the organisation, and create a bad impression well before the interview process has even begun. It can have serious financial implications too. Last year, LinkedIn research found that a poor employer brand could cost larger companies over £4m per year in additional wages needed to draw candidates in.

To stand a chance of enticing the best candidates, retailers urgently need to establish that strong, positive employer brand. As well as making an organisation appealing to external candidates, having employees that are proud to work for a company is a surefire way of finding new hires through referrals - widely accepted to be the best source of talent.

What makes a good employer?

We can look to companies like John Lewis as a shining example of how to successfully engage employees in a way that promotes a healthy business. But what exactly are UK professionals looking for in an employer?

We asked over 1,000 workers in the UK what matters most to them, to pinpoint exactly what retailers should be offering in order to attract and retain top talent – and this is what they said:

A strong (and authentic) culture is key

78 per cent of UK workers say that they would not tolerate a bad culture, even if it meant working for the top company in their industry. Whether it’s small everyday perks, opportunities for training and development, or simply encouraging open lines of communication, creating a positive culture is crucial. This is particularly important for women, with 82% saying they would not tolerate a poor workplace culture vs 74% of men.

Professionals want flexibility

Increasingly a hot topic, flexible and remote working are the most important non-financial perks for 44 per cent of professionals. In fact, just under 1 in 4 UK professionals (24%) would even trade a higher salary for more flexibility.

But don’t forget salary

Despite the appeal of an attractive culture and benefits, salary is still the biggest consideration for employees in the UK with nearly half (49%) rating it as an important factor when weighing up career opportunities.

There’s no doubt that a strong employer brand is key for retail to maintain its position as one of the most desirable sectors to work in. So retailers should strike while the iron is hot and shout about whatever it is that makes them special – for the sake of their individual companies and the retail sector as a whole.

Dan Dackombe is director, LinkedIn Talent Solutions EMEA

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