How to create a strong employer brand in an unsexy sector - a leading example!

Posted on 20.02.2018
What do you do if your company is in urgent need of new talent, but finds itself in a business sector deemed "unsexy"?
What do you do if you simply don't have the means to meet the requests put forward in wage negotiations, yet still have to be able to attract specialised profiles in order to continue growing as a company?

For years, logistics service provider H.Essers was facing exactly these challenges. Until, a couple of years ago, they decided to completely change course when it came to their HR management approach, making for the fact that they have meanwhile turned into the leading example in their "unsexy" sector.

H.Essers is a family company that was founded by Henri Essers in 1928, and has since become one of the leading companies in Europe in the field of transport and logistics. The company has experienced solid expansion in the last decades, making for the fact that it now has over 5,400 employees across 67 branches in 15 countries in Western and Eastern Europe. In 2016, H.Essers reported a turnover of 571 million euros and it has the ambition to boost this figure to 1 billion euros by 2020. In 2017 alone, the company hired no less than 350 new employees!

Wake-up call"I remember as if it were yesterday.", says Mike Dautzenberg, Group HR-director at H.Essers. "Two years ago, a big Swedish furniture company had planned to open a branch in Hasselt. They had locally advertised their vacancies and had, without any difficulty, received more than 10.000 applications. That same year, we too were looking for new employees. The difference being that we even had tremendous difficulty receiving a mere 100 applications in response to our posted vacancies! That was the moment I realised it was high time for us to seriously question our entire Employer Branding strategy - if we didn't, there was no way we were ever going to realise our growth ambition."

Long-term vision"The advantage of working for a family company is that the family has a long-term vision. We are given the time and space to build and create - step by step, in a truly sustainable way. That means that even if we wouldn't reach our targets, that still wouldn't mean the end of the world: as long as the company can keep on expanding in a healthy way, we are doing well. ... On top of that, the Essers family first and foremost focuses on the wellbeing of their employees. Hilde Essers often uses the words "one big family", and walks her talk because that is truly how she sees her people. If I, for example, don't feel 100%, she immediately notices. She is an entrepreneur who leads from the heart. I don't think I could go back to working for an organisation that has a short-term focus and prioritises numbers above people. So I took along this mindset when re-creating our HR strategy.", Mike says.

Great results on a small budgetEvery euro that goes towards the Rewards & Recognition Policy at H.Essers has to be turned over several times before it can be spent. Furthermore, there is no margin to pay out fat salaries.
Yet, in spite of this, these days, H.Essers manages to attract new talent all the time. Plus, both their absenteeism and employee turnover rates are low, the latter one being as low as 8% - a remarkable achievement in the in the field of transport and logistics!

Person to person, heart to heartBelieve it or not, these remarkable achievements are easily explained: every initiative that is taken, is taken within the framework of enabling a "heart to heart" connection. First and foremost, the focus always lies on the wellbeing of the employees and their families. Because when employees feel happy and appreciated, when they have the feeling they are being treated as valued members of the company (instead of being treated as "just another worker"), when they feel they are being taken care of, that is when they will radiate this positive energy onto their colleagues, their families and every person that crosses their path.


Initiatives with a high WOW factorMike told about all kinds of initiatives he has taken in the past seven years. I would like to share five with you in this blog.

1. My H. Essers care
In addition to free hospitalisation and group insurance, as a member of H. Essers' staff you can also enjoy very favourable rates (up to 35% cheaper) for home, fire and car insurance. To this end, the company has entered into a partnership with its dedicated insurance company. In this way, H. Essers can ensure that employees can save hundreds of euros on an annual basis. In addition, all resident family members can also benefit from this benefit.

2. Refreshing surprises
During the hot summer months, H. Essers offers its warehouse staff free chilled water. The company also sends ice cream carts out to every site in Belgium to surprise every employee with a delicious ice cream. There are more healthy initiatives in the form of fruit baskets, a smoothiecar or the flu vaccine shot offered free of charge each year. In this way, nice connection moments are created, while spending is limited.

3. Contact points with the management
A. Every year, initiatives are taken at the various sites to eat together with all employees, this can be done in the form of a BBQ where the management itself does the grilling, but they also have been seen stirring in a giant pan of paella.
B. At the end of the year a fun 'reindeer party' is organized. A big tent is put on the parking lot at the company headquarters and every employee is invited after work to enjoy some delicious french fries, a pint of beer, or.... just to soak up the nice atmosphere and talk to colleagues.
C. Every two months, CEO Gert Bervoets and Mike Dautzenberg join forces and go out on the "Gert & Mike on tour", visiting five branches. For a whole day they talk to the people on the shop floor and listen to their stories or concerns. This way they really get to know what is going on in the workplace and can capture improvement ideas.
D. The concept of "Young Wolves" was organised for the first time in 2017. During this evening, employees who have up to two years of service, are invited by the management to a nice informal evening that ends with a snack and a drink. The Management Board then shares the vision for the future and talks about the role everyone plays in it. Each board member tells his or her personal story by means of a booklet of friends. They explain who they are, talk about their family or hobbies, and tell them how they started so many years ago, what road they covered so far and where they are heading now.

4.  Additional benefits
H. Essers is always looking for all kinds of initiatives to increase the purchasing power of the employees. For example, they have set up a benefits platform in which employees receive an extra discount at certain stores. But it goes even further. A cycling event was recently organised on the site in Genk. Several bicycle suppliers were invited to exhibit their models. All employees of H. Essers were given the opportunity to purchase a bicycle at very competitive prices. This way they not only promote more healthy exercise but also allow employees to make an interesting purchase.

5. Beyond money
If the company's results are good, they naturally want to share this with their employees. However, what they had noticed was that paying an extra bonus, created a disappointing effect. After all, the amount was not so large and by expressing this in cash, people were more frustrated than motivated. After all, this did not really appear to be a form of appreciation. Two years ago, together with the trade unions, the management decided to take a completely different approach. It was decided to convert that amount into points employees could shop with on an online platform that was specially built for H. Essers. The perception was completely different because it was no longer expressed in monetary terms but in points. Moreover, the employees could then really choose something to pamper themselves or their family instead of the money disappearing in the household pot. The fact that people ended up in a kind of online cave of Ali Baba created a completely different perception. This allowed them to choose from gifts, charities, experiences ... And often the choice was made together with the family, so that the feeling, experience and visibility was a vast improvement over the old cash reward.

ConclusionAttracting talent is becoming increasingly more difficult for companies. Only offering a competitive salary package or cafeteria plan will not suffice. You need to do better!

The most important component to attract and retain people is to make them feel that they are really making a difference in the organization, first and foremost by appreciating them. Due to the rapid technological evolution and increasing complexity, there is a danger that people will drop out sooner if they do not really feel connected to their organization. The trend that I see in companies is that they start to reason even more from the ratio (figures) and all focus on technology alone. But you can not make a connection by expressing even more in cash or by implementing additional technical systems. In the first place, you do this on the basis of small 'human' things that ensure your employees feel really committed, just like in the story of H.Essers.

Would you like to know more about our motivation or recognition platforms? Send me an e-mail on nathalie@arteel.eu and I will be happy to show you a case from your sector.

Nathalie Arteel
Leading Angel Arteel Group
Recognition and Motivation Expert