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Negative Press vs. Recruitment: Why Branding is a Lifeline in the Water Industry

In the competitive world of utilities and water companies, reputation is everything. Recent headlines have thrust some of the UK’s most prominent water companies into the spotlight, casting a shadow over their operations and reputation.


Such negative press can have a profound impact on recruitment efforts in an industry already facing a shortage of skilled workers, not to mention dealing with an ageing workforce and the fact that more than a fifth of the industry’s experienced workers are expected to retire within a decade.


However, with challenges come opportunities. In the following blog, we’ll delve into the repercussions of such news on recruitment and explore the lifeline that employer branding offers to help water companies navigate these turbulent waters.


The recruitment challenge


Negative press, especially of this magnitude, can have a cascading effect on various aspects of a company, with recruitment being one of the most affected areas.


Here’s how:


  • Loss of competitive edge 


Much effort has gone into changing the water industry’s image to appeal to a wider range of talent and to attract a younger, more digital-savvy workforce. Moreover, prospective employees, especially those in the younger generation, are increasingly conscious of the ethical practices of their potential employers and want to work for reputable companies that align with their values.


However, scandals can create an atmosphere of distrust and in a sector as competitive as water, where workers under the age of 24 account for just 8% of the workforce, a damaged reputation can deter top talent from considering a career in the water industry, giving competitors an edge in attracting the best talent.


  • Diverse talent drift


Negative press could even limit the diversity of talent applying to the water industry at a time when diversifying their workforce has been hot on water companies’ agendas. Talented individuals from various backgrounds and with different skills might be discouraged from joining, given the perceived challenges or controversies.


  • Misunderstandings and stereotyping


Often, negative press can lead to broad generalisations about an industry. This can cause potential candidates to have misconceptions, believing, for instance, that the entire water sector is fraught with issues, even if the negative news has been about specific companies or a localised event. They might even ponder over the long-term reputation and stability of joining an industry seemingly battling internal issues when browsing headlines about legal struggles.


Increased recruitment costs 


A damaged reputation often means water companies must invest more in recruitment efforts. This could be in the form of higher salaries to attract candidates who are hesitating to associate their personal brand with the industry / a specific company that is being perceived negatively, or due to increased advertising and outreach efforts.


Loss of current talent 


Negative press doesn’t just affect potential hires. Current employees might feel disillusioned, demotivated and / or embarrassed to be associated with a company facing allegations, leading to decreased productivity, lower engagement, and increased attrition in an industry already grappling with the challenge that 50% of its workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 20 years. 


Long-term brand damage 


Negative news, and in particular when legal culpability is established by a court of law, can have a significant change in a company’s reputation and linger in the public’s memory, making it challenging to shake off the stigma even years down the line.


The power of employer branding


While the challenges are evident, all is not lost. Employer branding can counteract the impact of negative press, allowing a company to share their story, values, and vision, rather than having news stories steer the narrative.


While employer branding is about promoting water companies as an employer of choice, it goes beyond recruitment. It’s about reshaping the perception of water companies in the eyes of both potential and current employees following the recent spate of negative press.


Moreover, in the face of adversity, a strong employer brand can still draw top-tier talent by showcasing company culture, professional growth avenues, and a commitment to ethical conduct.


And it’s not just about attracting new talent. A well-cultivated brand ensures existing employees remain ambassadors, defending and upholding company values even in turbulent times.


How to Enhance Employer Branding in the Water Industry 


  • Craft your own narrative 


A strong employer brand allows a company or industry to tell its own story, instead of letting the media or detractors do it for them. This proactive approach showcases the positives and highlights steps taken to address concerns.


  • Building trust through transparency 


In today’s digital age, transparency is key. Addressing allegations head-on, accepting mistakes where they’ve occurred, and outlining steps for rectification demonstrates a company’s integrity and can go a long way in rebuilding trust.


  • Regular audits


Conducting regular internal and external audits can ensure compliance and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability.


Feedback mechanisms


Implementing feedback mechanisms allows employees to voice concerns, offer suggestions, and feel heard. Directly addressing issues, rather than avoiding them, demonstrates integrity. This transparency can turn the tide of negative perceptions.


  • Emphasise sustainability and environmental responsibility 


Given environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are increasingly emerging as a means for companies to set themselves apart and to secure a competitive advantage, highlighting the industry’s commitment to ecological balance, conservation, and sustainable practices is key. Moreover, setting and publicising clear sustainability goals demonstrates a company’s long-term commitment to the environment.


  • Engage in community outreach


Participate in local community events, provide educational programs about water conservation, host workshops and hold open houses, and sponsor relevant initiatives. This type of community engagement not only showcases companies’ commitment to its customers and the environment but can also restore trust by illustrating the proactive steps being taken.


  • Engage with utility-focused forums


Sharing insights and solutions on platforms that cater to utilities can place water companies in a proactive, solution-oriented light.


  • Collaborations and partnerships


Partnering with environmental organisations or taking up joint initiatives can also showcase a company’s commitment to positive change.


  • Educational partnerships


Partnering with schools and universities can nurture a positive image from an early stage and can foster long-term interest in the industry and counteract negative perceptions.


  • Promote and leverage employee testimonials


Happy, engaged employees can be a company’s best ambassadors. Encouraging them to share positive experiences and initiatives of working in the water industry on social media, with friends through word-of-mouth, or on platforms like Glassdoor can counterbalance some of the negative press and dispel any myths or misconceptions.


  • Harness social media


Regular consistent positive messaging and updates about community initiatives, sharing successes, environmental measures, and company achievements can shape a positive narrative. Moreover, the water sector is ripe with innovation. Highlighting these regularly can shift focus from negative press to positive strides the industry is making.


  • Continuous learning and development


Showcase the industry’s commitment to professional growth, upskilling, and innovations. By demonstrating dedication to excellence and employee growth, water companies can attract and retain talent, even in challenging times.


To conclude 


While negative press can pose challenges to recruitment in the water industry, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle and offers water companies a chance to introspect, innovate, and improve.


With a strategic focus on employer branding, water companies can navigate these stormy waters, ensuring a consistent influx of dedicated, skilled, and passionate professionals, securing their position as industry leaders. It’s all about taking control of the narrative, demonstrating the industry’s values, and highlighting the essential, life-sustaining work that it undertakes every day.


Chloe Whilock-Harvey, Practice Manager, Infrastructure, Process, and Utilities at Rullion, shares her perspective: “The water industry is at a pivotal moment. While recent news has cast a shadow, it’s essential to remember the incredible work these companies do daily. With the right strategies in place, including a strong focus on employer branding, there’s a golden opportunity to not only attract top talent but to also rebuild trust with the public. At Rullion, we’ve seen first-hand how a proactive approach to addressing challenges can turn the tide, leading to a brighter future for both the industry and its workforce.”




How can recruitment agencies help a water company with its tarnished image? Read our post: Revitalising the image of water companies: the role of recruitment agencies.





Looking for a recruitment agency specialised in water and utilities? Rullion, with its deep industry knowledge and expertise, is here to help. Reach out to us today by filling out our contact form below.