Job seekers form views of organisations through a variety of cues; some direct (e.g. job advertisements) and some indirect (e.g. word of mouth). Much like how consumer branding influences purchase decisions, the direct and indirect signals that shape employer brand perceptions and reputations will also likely influence the behaviour of job seekers.
Companies in competitive job markets like Asia ought to be clued in on factors such as organisational personality perceptions, which in the eyes of job seekers “convey important information about the organisation and what it may be like to work there,” say academics Gary J. Greguras and Jerel E. Slaughter.
Greguras is an associate professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources at Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, while Slaughter is an associate professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Arizona. They co-wrote a paper entitled Initial Attraction to Organisations: The Influence of Trait Inferences.
Their hypothesis is that job candidates no longer examine just practical considerations (e.g., work hours, benefits), but also, whether the job can potentially complement their personal and social identities. The belief is that highly reputable organisations represent a more compelling promise to job seekers: e.g., “This is a reputable company to work for; this company probably has a reputation as being an excellent employer.”
For their study, Greguras and Slaughter utilised a previously developed measure of organisational personality perceptions which suggests that organisational traits can be grouped into five key dimensions:
- Boy Scout: Friendly, attentive to people, pleasant, family-oriented, cooperative, clean, honest
- Innovativeness: Interesting, exciting, unique, creative, original
- Dominance: Successful, popular, busy, active
- Thrift: Low budget, low class, simple, sloppy, poor
- Style: Stylish, fashionable, hip, trendy
Using these dimensions, the two professors launched a survey involving some 732 participants about a group of Fortune 100 companies. From the responses, they observed links between how organisations’ personalities were perceived and their corresponding attractiveness to potential job seekers.
Overall, the respondents were more attracted to organisations that rated highly on the Boy Scout, Innovativeness, Dominance, and Style dimensions, and they were less attracted to those that rated high on the 'thrift' dimension.
Perceptions of prestige
In marketing, branding serves an instrumental function, which highlights tangible benefits, as well as a symbolic one, which deals with the intangible. For instance, the instrumental value of an iPhone could be its intuitive interface and access to thousands of applications. Its symbolic value could lie in its ability to make users feel good – because the gadget allows them to express their personalities or social identities.
Some studies have drawn parallels between such seller-to-buyer propositions to that of the recruiter and job seeker.
“The process of joining and identifying with a new organisation can allow individuals to accommodate not only instrumental (e.g. income), but symbolic needs as well (e.g. increasing self-esteem),” Greguras and Slaughter write. “People seek to maintain a positive self-concept by joining organisations that they believe the public views favourably. When individuals work for an organisation that has a favourable reputation, they are proposed to ‘bask in the reflected glory’ of the company’s status."
Products that enjoy high brand equity can command a premium. People who purchase an iPhone are willing to fork out extra dollars (over and above what they might have paid for a similar or even technically superior smart phone) because of the symbolic value offered by Apple. Likewise, organisations with high recruitment equity will have an upper hand when it comes to attracting higher quality job seekers.
But to what extent can organisations leverage this to their advantage?
For their study, Greguras and Slaughter ran hierarchical regression analyses for three attraction-related variables – attraction to the organisation, prestige of the organisation and likelihood of accepting a job offer – while controlling for traditional job attributes (e.g. pay, challenge, location, etc).
They found that organisation personality traits could influence ‘attraction’ and ‘prestige,’ but not ‘likelihood of accepting a job offer.’ This, they say, suggests that trait inferences play a greater role in people’s initial attraction to organisations, and perhaps a lesser role in determining whether or not a job seeker ultimately accepts the job.
Be that as it may, this initial attraction deserves attention. Greguras and Slaughter explain that as long as there is initial interest, human resource managers have an inroad to boost the job attractiveness amongst potential applicants. Without it, organisations will have to invest more in order to attract any sort of attention to its recruitment.
The researchers also note that organisational personality perceptions accounted for the largest proportion of incremental variance in the ‘prestige’ variable, after controlling for traditional job attributes. This suggests that organisational personality perceptions can affect the level of prestige that a person associates with an organisation.
Prestige, as something “public and verifiable,” as the researchers describe this variable, confers esteem, regard or status in the eyes of outsiders. Quoting social identity theory, the researchers wrote: “Individuals have certain perceptions about an organisation’s traits, which influences their beliefs about the organisation’s reputation in the eyes of the public, which in turn influences their attitudes toward seeking employment. Individuals find jobs at organisations with stronger reputations more attractive because it increases their self-esteem and social status.”
Can an individual’s own personality traits affect his or her organisational personality perceptions, attraction to the company and likelihood of accepting a job offer? Will a conscientious person get on well with an organisation personality that is high on ‘style’ dimension? Will a person who is highly open to experiences enjoy working for a ‘thrift’ organisation?
These questions on Person-Organisation (PO) fit have intrigued academics in organisational behaviour and human resources for at least the past two decades.
Greguras and Slaughter studied interactions between organisational personality traits and the ‘Big Five’ human personality traits (namely Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism and Openness to Experience) of 371 participants. They hypothesised that people with certain characteristics (take for example, Conscientiousness) will be more attracted to some organisations than others (in this case, Boy Scout).
Past studies have shown that highly conscientious people prefer cooperative and friendly behaviours. They also value integrity and cautiousness – traits that all seem to align rather well with the Boy Scoutdimension.
Based on their analyses, Greguras and Slaughter found partial evidence to support their hypotheses: the attraction that resulted from the person and organisation ‘fit’ was not as strong as they had predicted. Stronger attraction did not come from a stronger fit. Rather, weaker attractions resulted from weaker fits.
The researchers explained: “The weakest attraction was observed when individuals had high levels of certain personality characteristics and they perceived that the organisation had low levels of similar personality characteristics.”
The takeaway, they said, is that in determining initial attraction to an organisation, a strong PO fit may not necessarily be advantageous, but the lack of a PO fit may be “more damaging.”
In light of this, should companies care about their attractiveness? Yes. “Although feeling initial attraction to a company is in fact very much without cost, if individuals are not at least initially attracted, the possibility of increasing their levels of attraction further is highly limited.” Organisations will stand to gain when they engage with a captive, interested audience, rather than an indifferent one.
As it is with matrimony, attraction might not make for a happy and solid union; but it can surely help. So while traditional job attributes like job scope and pay still carry significant weight in the marriage of humans and their job, initial attraction might very well tip the scale with sought-after talents – an advantage not to be underestimated, especially in competitive knowledge economies where talent acquisition and retention play increasingly critical roles in organisational success.
About the Author
[email protected] is an online resource that offers regularly updated business insights, information and research from a variety of sources, including interviews with industry leaders and Singapore Management University faculty. The resource can be accessed at http://knowledge.smu.edu.sg.This article was re-edited for clarity and conciseness.