Just back from a very pleasant city break in Berlin – colder than I, and my extremities, would have thought possible, but at the same time fascinating, evocative and with a story around every corner. We took the step, either brave or foolhardy or both, to fly Ryanair. It’s been a while – I’ve been increasingly put off by the owner’s, at best, ambivalent approach to his customers. Nevertheless, the flight worked perfectly around our schedule and the price was right – what could possibly go wrong?  More to the point, I’ve been bombarded with recent messaging focusing on how the airline is addressing its customer service challenges and its previous enthusiasm to extract additional revenue from its passengers at every turn.

So, was our trust in both Ryanair and its ability to change justified or thrown back in our faces? Well, a funny thing happened. (And not just the rather quaint trumpet fanfare that celebrates every on-time flight by the airline and which we were regaled with both coming and going). It wasn’t simply that Ryanair were hugely impressive – even if the seats are very, very yellow – but they far outshone German efficiency at the airport. And we appear not to be the only ones struck by Ryanair’s raising of the bar – passenger numbers are up 6% in the quarter and summer 2014 bookings are significantly ahead of last years.

So, if Ryanair can begin to regain trust in its service and its brand, what about employers? Or are candidates and the prevailing sense of caution less keen to give organisations a second look?

Who can we trust?

Trust is clearly a big deal this year. Employers and leaders are having to seriously take their attempts to create or re-create trust among both their employees and their candidate audiences. As the CBI’s John Cridland puts it: “this must be the year that business leaders take action to rebuild the trust that has taken so much of a hammering.” An article in the current issue of HR Magazine puts this challenge down to an unfortunate combination of falling levels of employee trust with senior managers, and society’s trust issues with the likes of MPs, banks, the BBC and phone hacking media.

This is so important to so many key organisational initiatives this year. Take Lloyds Banking Group. Just this week, Antonio Horta Osorio has gone on record as saying that the bank will hire another 600 female managers over the next six years. By 2020, he wants 40% of senior bank professionals to be women. A strong, confident statement and one with which it would be difficult to find fault. The initiative, however positive it may be, will only land successfully if female bankers and professionals believe that Lloyds is the right organisation for their careers if they feel able to put their trust in the organisation. And although the bank has made significant headway from both a reputational and performance perspective, this week saw it putting aside another £1.8 billion for PPI compensation claims.

The future of recruitment

Lloyds are not the only organisation for whom the conveyance and landing of trust to employment audiences is a key driver. The AGR this week forecast that graduate vacancies will rise a more than healthy 10.2% in 2014. The City, with its banking and financial services employers, are more optimistic than the norm, predicting an overall increase in graduate hiring of 16%. And while the news appears hugely positive, what sort of trust challenges do those recruiting organisations face out on campus over the next few months? Will they and their employment messages be met with open arms, grateful graduates and enthusiastic applications? Or will their target audiences continue to view the sector with scepticism, apprehension and mistrust?

Rebuilding foundations
One organisation which clearly understands the extent of this challenge is Barclays. Its new CEO, Antony Jenkins, hinted right at the end of 2013 the nature of the journey he and his bank were on: “Trust is a very easy thing to lose and a very hard thing to win back. In my view, it will take between five and ten years to rebuild trust in Barclays.” This applies in equal measure to Barclays’ customers and their employees. Fittingly, Jenkins, in a move destined to boost further his reputation for trust and openness, rejected his annual bonus for the second time this month.

The employment market has turned appreciably over the past nine months – indeed, the most recent ONS labour market figures, with a record 30.15m in work and the unemployment rate falling to 7.1%, are little short of staggering. It is hugely gratifying that organisations such as Lloyds are setting out to deliver on such important initiatives – but the issue of trust will be a critical factor in them succeeding or failing. Employers need to understand the extent to which candidate audiences have faith and trust in them and address these issues accordingly.

My trust in Ryanair (not to mention woolly hats and thermal underwear) was re-established this month. A similar challenge faces employers in 2014, as they encounter not only the most competitive recruitment market in half a decade but also the scepticism and mistrust of exactly those people who will make a difference to key corporate objectives this year.

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Written by Neil Harrison, head of employer branding & insight, TMP Worldwide

Heading up TMP’s employer branding practice, I have lead major branding projects for organisations such as Unilever, Santander, Telefonica, Pizza Express, HSBC, the MoD, Bank of America and EON. Employer branding is now established as a core offering within TMP and an integral part of our corporate vision. I am also responsible for the delivery of both best practice research-based discovery within employer branding but also new industry initiatives – this includes a major presentation of some bespoke employer branding research earlier this year.

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