June 25, 2020

Insight into IKEA’s Employer Branding

During lockdown, we’ve been taking the opportunity to reach outside our bubbles and chat with people from the world of employer branding and beyond. This week, I spoke with Cheri Heijkenskjöld, Talent Attraction & Employer Branding Lead for IKEA UK & Ireland.

IKEA hit the headlines recently for their plans to repay furlough payments around the world. It’s just one way the Swedish giant has stood out for their positive actions throughout the pandemic. So we wanted to hear what’s been going on behind the headlines, and how Covid-19 has shaped their approach to employer branding.

What’s the impact of the last three months been on you?

It’s been a bit strange, an emotional roller coaster. When lockdown started I said, ‘I’m just gonna work from home a couple of days’. I have relatives in China, so I knew how serious it was but I was in denial in some way. Then four weeks in, I was furloughed, together with half of my team. And I realised all of a sudden, what am I supposed to do with my time? I can’t go out and do anything. And I can’t work and I didn’t want to binge Netflix for the next four weeks!

I decided that I was going to take those four weeks to seize the opportunity, as cheesy as it sounds. I started cooking, I started to read a lot and just everything you usually save for ‘When I get the time’. Each day felt so fulfilling and I loved it.  

It was amazing and for me it was such an insight. Returning to work, I feel like I have to bring some of that back in to work. Finding a better balance and not putting things that I would like to do off until I get more time. I have to make the time here and now to make sure I invest in myself and can become the best version of me in and outside of work.

How’s IKEA approached lockdown, furlough and eventually bringing people back?

In the recruitment function we were thinking, ‘what happens if we can’t meet candidates anymore?’ We didn’t have a virtual process so we started creating that. We quickly realised a lot of the challenge was upskilling our organisation in hiring somebody you never met. That’s quite a big step for a lot of people to take. We also realised that candidate experience looks different when you can’t meet the candidate in person, so we are really focusing on how to offer a meaningful experience that reflects the IKEA brand, but virtually.

From a co-worker point of view, we invested a lot in home learning, internal engagement and leadership sessions. We have tried to provide people with tools and networks, so that they can be connected even when they are not in the store. We also had ten stores which we’ve turned to fulfilment centres, so even though they were closed, we were still packing orders from them, which is new for us.

It’s been said a lot that what companies do now will define their employer brand for the next few years. What work have you done at IKEA to manage the employer brand at this time?

We decided to focus a lot on being there for our co-workers in these difficult times. One part of that was to invest in virtual training and classes to connect. We launched leadership sessions, and I was blown away by how good it was and how it could be developed so quickly. We’ve also done a lot of webinars and we’re trying to encourage people to stay connected even though they’re on furlough. We have Yammer groups to encourage people to have small events like online treasure hunts and things like that to make people feel that even though they’re not working, this is still their community. And last but not least IKEA has been supporting the co-workers financially to get through these challenging times.

We have also worked with local communities to support in the best way for this difficult situation and recently loaned out our Wembley Store to become an NHS test centre. I’m really proud of how IKEA has been using our platforms and voices to help others. It’s really important for us to walk the talk and caring for people and the planet are some of our core values.” 

IKEA was obviously an incredibly well-known brand to begin with. How does that sort of brand equity work in your favour at a time like this?

IKEA is known as a global successful retailer with great market success. So when you think about us as an employer, you think that it’s a very stable place. It’s not a business that would just shut its doors forever like that. 

Also, we are known for our people-driven approach, so that I think has been even more important during these times. What people will remember from a lot of companies out there is how they treated their staff during Covid-19.

What does this all mean for working in the retail sector, and the audiences you’re looking to recruit?

I think that the retail industry will change and become more holistic. In the future if you take a retail job, you can expect to be multi-skilling. So even if you start in customer service, maybe in a couple of months you will do order picking. It will not be limited to your traditional salesperson or warehouse person. I think that we will really take a big step into online retail customer fulfilment now. It was always going to happen, but this just made us do it in two months instead of in a couple of years.

Retail traditionally has not been as sexy to work in as tech companies for example and that means that we will need to position ourselves differently as an employer. Moving forward, I think we will need to target and build new skills and I guess it’s up to us to define what type of talent is needed in the future and how can we make sure that we are attractive for that group.

How will the way we work change?

If you would have asked me a few weeks ago, I would have been more pessimistic and said that I don’t think anything will change, it would just be a hiccup and then people will be back to normal life. 

Now, I think that there’s some things we’ll never go back to. I think that the definition of work will be so different. You’re obviously hearing about Twitter and Google allowing their people to work remotely permanently if they want to. It’s such an awesome and huge statement to do and I think companies will naturally have to follow that trend. 

And even if you work in a job like retail, where you can’t really work from home, employers will have to change how they view work. Re-skilling and upskilling will need to become a big part of work for sure. Maybe in the future you work six hours on the shop floor and two hours to focus on learning. I think multi-skilling and learning will only become bigger. Whichever company cracks that formula will be a big winner when it comes to talent.