RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Employer branding is critical to attracting and retaining top talent to federal agencies in an increasingly competitive labor market.
  • The employee value proposition (EVP) is the core promise made to employees for their talent and contributions.
  • Accenture research shows that only 12 percent of federal leaders have a view of such a clearly articulated value proposition for their agency.


Federal government must employ an increasingly diverse set of talent to deliver on its wide-ranging, rapidly changing missions, including in healthcare, national security, and cyber technology.

Yet, the federal government is competing with well-recognized brands in the commercial sector, especially to hire for and retain in-demand roles such as cybersecurity experts, data scientists, physicians, and engineers.

For a government agency seeking to appeal to today’s jobseekers, it’s crucial to have a well-recognized and positive employer brand. An employer brand reflects the public perception of what it’s like to work for an organization. Nearly three-fourths of recruiting leaders globally say brand has a significant impact on their hiring efforts, and 59 percent say they are actively investing to build their employer brand.

Furthermore, social media and the transparency of the internet make an employer’s brand increasingly visible and relevant. Nearly 8 in 10 jobseekers are likely to use social media in their job hunts. Only 21 percent say they would apply to an organization with a one-star rating.

Forward-thinking federal agencies are already being proactive about their employer brand and integrating it into their organization-wide goals and communication. Agencies that don’t emphasize employer brand may not be maximizing their recruiting and retention capabilities.

Agencies should continue to strengthen their employer brand with an organized, digital-first, and data-driven approach. Doing so will feed the applicant pipeline today and help ensure workforce resilience and continuity over the long haul.

What is employer branding?

Good branding is not just about having an instantly recognizable logo (think Coke) and a memorable tagline to define the value proposition (“Have a Coke and a smile”). Effective branding goes deeper, defining how people innately feel about an organization: USAA may offer competitive rates on insurance, for example, but what their customers value most is their overriding commitment to customer service and meeting the unique needs of members of the military.

Just as products and chain stores have brands, so do employers. Employer branding is all the ways in which organizations present themselves to desired job seekers, as well as how they define themselves to existing employees. Effective employer branding should both reflect and influence a wide range of actions and perceptions, including how the organization communicates, how it supports it employees, how it rewards success, and how it markets itself to potential candidates.

Employer branding is all the ways in which organizations present themselves to desired job seekers, as well as how they define themselves to existing employees.

Employer branding is not a one-size-fits-all agenda, but instead should be tailored to meet employees’ and candidates’ differing expectations based on their age, industry, and career levels, among other characteristics.

Some strong examples of positive employer branding come from Silicon Valley where, for instance, one search-engine giant is known for its extensive in-office benefits, collegial atmosphere, and opportunities to work on cutting-edge projects. While not as widely recognized, the Census Bureau offers a similar culture of data science excellence, with an open campus fostering intellectual collaboration.

When done correctly, employer branding can be a positive force for attracting and retaining talent.

The central component of an employer brand is the Employee Value Proposition (EVP), or the employer’s promise to both current and potential employees. The EVP reflects what organizations offer employees in exchange for their experience, talents, contacts, or skills.

An EVP embodies the essence of the organization, including how it’s unique and what it stands for.

What is an Employee Value Proposition?

The EVP reflects what organizations offer employees in exchange for their experience, skills, contacts, etc.

Overall, effective employer branding …

… Must be a true reflection of the organization’s values, experiences

Authenticity is key. The brand must be a direct reflection of the actual employee experience. At NASA, for instance, 75 percent of employees say they are proud to be part of the NASA brand while 84 percent of employees believe they work in a positive work environment. The word and deed are tightly linked.

The employer brand “is all about employee experience – what it feels like to work in the organization, the benefits and perks they can enjoy, the culture they can experience, and career development opportunities they can leverage,” Randstad reports.

… Requires coordination across all departments, not just within HR

Employer branding is a multi-faceted endeavor. It requires the combined efforts of HR, marketing communications, and C-suite leadership since an agency’s brand will reflect both tangible and intangible attributes of the organization.

Employer brand can encompass the working environment, such as whether managers are seen as supportive and if employees feel their contributions are meaningful to the organization. It also reflects on perceived opportunities for professional growth, as well as on practical considerations such as compensation and benefits.

Employer brand-building must take a human-centric approach, leveraging data to define the existing perception of the brand and drive internal changes that will enhance the brand going forward.

Federal employer branding opportunities

Federal agencies can consider focusing on several key areas when appealing to prospective employees, including:

  1. Adapting employer branding to emphasize new technology skills
  2. Shortening lengthy hiring timelines
  3. Maximizing the use of external and internal digital channels
  4. Emphasizing the mission and stability of government work

Read more about each opportunity below.

1. Adapting employer branding to emphasize new technology skills

As federal agencies’ processes change to meet current and future needs, federal agencies will need to employ an increasingly agile and technologically savvy workforce.

Accenture’s work in federal uses of artificial intelligence, for example, highlights the need for a workforce ready and willing to operate on the cutting edge of technology. AI could impact up to 30 percent of federal government workers’ time within the next 10 years, making it even more important for employers to attract and retain workers who have the right skills to work alongside machines.

By 2028, AI could be applied to tasks that consume up to 30% of federal workers’ time.

Government faces hurdles as it moves to address this looming workforce challenge, especially in the face of increasingly competitive private-sector recruiting. When asked by Accenture about their top three challenges, 56 percent of federal leaders mentioned competing offers from other organizations.

2. Shortening lengthy hiring timelines

The latest recorded average time to hire in federal government was 98 days, compared to 42 days in the private sector, and the gap has been widening.

Federal vs. private sector hiring timelines

98

Average days to hire in the federal government

42

Average days to hire in the private sector

For those prone to see government as slow-moving and non-responsive, such processes only serve to reinforce that negative brand image and can diminish applicants’ enthusiasm over time. Accenture found one out of four federal leaders say that a lengthy hiring timeline is the top challenge in attracting and retaining talent.

3. Maximizing the use of external and internal digital channels

Federal agencies may not be well-represented online. Only five of the top 100 brands candidates search for are public-sector organizations, a reflection of government’s relatively thin presence online.

Most federal government agencies will post jobs on their websites, and some may do a bit of digital advertising. Far fewer are leveraging the full scope of digital channels, including optimizing their career websites for paid and organic search, actively sharing and engaging on social media channels, publishing blog content, and diligently managing their presence on online ratings and reviews platforms.

Federal agencies may struggle to leverage their current workforce to build employer brand if those employees aren’t engaged. The government trails the private sector in perceptions of performance and productivity by 16 percentage points, on average, with lower scores on employee engagement, availability of sufficient resources, encouragement on innovation, constructive feedback, and a reasonable workload.

Federal agencies can mobilize their current employee base as part of their employer brand. For example, current employees can be encouraged to become social media influencers for the employer brand. Word of mouth referrals and employees’ social media comments heavily shape employer brand. Activating employees as “brand ambassadors” can go a long way to increase both authenticity and employee engagement.

4. Emphasizing the mission and stability of government work

Federal government brings some unique positive attributes to the branding equation. These inherent qualities could give it an edge in the effort to gain attention from younger job seekers, especially younger Millennials and Gen Z.

What are the positive attributes of the government brand? Two key factors stand out – mission and stability.

Federal employment + Gen Z

Which federal employment attributes could appeal to younger workers?

  1. Mission
  2. Stability

To the extent that job seekers do consider government, they see it as a place where one might potentially make a difference in the world.

This aligns with the needs of up-and-coming workers. Gen Z is more likely to believe their job should have a greater purpose; 74 percent of Gen Z values this compared to 45 percent of Millennials and 40 percent of Gen X.

At its best, government offers a mission-driven environment removed from certain profit restraints, which can appeal to these expectations.

Having seen their parents ride out the Great Recession, Gen Z is also looking for stability and security. One recent survey of 1,000 Gen Zers found 40 percent agreeing that their top career goal was to work in a role where they feel stable and secure.

Here again, job security and long-term stability are inherent attributes of the government brand. While furloughs may create a perception of instability, the facts say otherwise. For example, federal employees had a median job tenure of 8.3 years in 2018, compared with 3.8 years for private sector employees.

This isn’t to suggest that recruiting Gen Z will be an easy task. Gen Z lists “opportunities for professional development” and “the flexibility to change roles within an organization” as must-haves for their job at a higher rate than the average across all generations. Furthermore, in the same survey, 46 percent of Gen Z lists the ability to pursue their passion as a top work motivator, compared to 32 percent across all generations.

To attract this emerging workforce, government agencies must ensure they offer these opportunities and then amplify them through their employer brands.

Government agencies will also need to adjust the way they communicate their employer brand proposition. Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to content being curated and personalized for them. Agencies will need to approach their branding efforts with digital sophistication and a high degree of personalization in mind.

Building a federal employer branding framework

Government agencies seeking to reinforce their employer brand, or to create one in the absence of any existing brand awareness, can take a methodological approach to clarify the essential elements of brand building.

An employer brand framework should consist of a few essential elements:

  • Attractiveness/Brand Equity: Employee confidence in the brand and the likelihood of employees recommending their workplace to a friend.
  • Rewards: The competitiveness of compensation and benefits.
  • Communication: The degree to which good communications foster productivity, as well as a measure of whether employees feel their voices are being heard.
  • Retention/Development: The availability of training and development opportunities and the perception that this is a place where one can grow and evolve.
  • Performance/Productivity: Do people feel they have the resources they need to succeed? Do they get consistent and meaningful feedback?
  • Leadership/Management: Employees’ confidence in their management and C-suite team’s purpose and abilities.
Employer Branding Framework Visual

In Accenture’s experience, employers who successfully merge all these elements have certain traits in common. They tend to approach employer branding not just as a goal in itself, but rather as part of a larger end-to-end process. They consider employer brand at every stage of an employee’s journey, through the recruiting, onboarding, employment, and advocacy phases.

Organizations with a strong employer branding strategy also lean heavily on data, establishing metrics to ensure continual, dynamic measurement and optimization throughout the employer branding process.

In organizations that struggle with this strategy, the employer brand may be disconnected from the core drivers of the business. Managed solely by the HR department, it can become associated merely with superficial perks.

Ideally, the employer brand process will instead be spearheaded by the agency’s top executives, who are best positioned to develop the talent framework – defining the key qualities, behaviors, and motivations of the target workforce.

Top level buy-in also helps to ensure the employer brand that emerges will be leveraged consistently across all elements of the organization.

Establishing your federal agency’s employer brand

Federal agencies that are early in their employer branding journey shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the process. There are a number of easily attainable first steps.

Key to the process is development of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Created through a rigorous process of internal and external research, the EVP encompasses an organization’s mission, values, and culture. It embodies all the reasons someone might want to work for you – what the agency has to offer in exchange for all the skills and experience employees bring to the table.

Developing an EVP is key to understanding and communicating the employer brand. A well-articulated EVP helps to organize recruitment marketing and is a woven throughout the candidate and employee experience. Accenture research shows that only 12 percent of federal leaders have a view of such a clearly articulated value proposition for their agency, indicating there are important opportunities for federal agencies to focus on developing their EVP and ultimately attract and retain better talent.

Agencies can begin now to assemble the data that will feed the EVP. Employee surveys, exit interviews, social media sentiment, and other sources can help agencies identify recurrent themes and perceived strengths, driving the deeper conversations that will inform the EVP.

Agencies can also begin to identify their brand ambassadors – engaged employees whose personal stories will help to bring the EVP to life and give the brand an authentic voice.

The next steps to solidifying an employer brand will involve intensive research across the organization. For example, to support a federal agency’s employer brand, Accenture conducted focus groups and interviews with people within the organization from all levels and workstreams. We also held external focus groups with “lookalike” candidates, or people who matched the recruiting criteria, to gain firsthand insight into public perceptions of the agency, its employer brand, and components that reflect its EVP.

In another federal agency, we helped attract top-tier talent for STEM positions through a process that included an internal audit and stakeholder interviews, as well as focus groups with prospective candidates where we learned about attitudes and beliefs toward the agency.

This methodical, data-driven approach can help agencies refine and communicate their employer brand, attracting a broader and deeper applicant pool.

A human-centric, data-driven strategy around employer branding represents a powerful path forward for federal agencies looking to earn a prominent place in the eyes of jobseekers. A strong employer brand ensures federal government will be competitive among applicants with increasingly high workplace expectations and boosts the likelihood of retaining top talent needed to achieve their missions.

Amber Messersmith

Senior Manager – Accenture Federal Services


Kristen Vaughan

Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services, Human Capital Lead


Meghan Yurchisin

Global Lead, PS Research & Thought Leadership – Accenture Research

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