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Research Report

4 Misconceptions About Employee Value Propositions that Every Campus Leader Needs to Confront

Brooke Thayer, Senior Director, Research Development

Higher education is facing high levels of staff turnover, widespread employee disengagement, and a broader competitive set that increasingly includes out-of-sector employers. As a result, campus leadership teams can no longer rely on their student value proposition and institutional brand to attract and retain a talented workforce. Instead, they must invest in creating and articulating a clear and compelling employee value proposition (EVP).

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    What is an employee value proposition (EVP)?

    An employee value proposition is all the ways through which an organization provides value to employees and convinces people to want to work (and stay) there.

EVP is a best practice in the corporate world, but has only recently begun to infiltrate higher ed. Many colleges and universities have not yet adapted their talent strategy to compete beyond compensation or explain why exactly employees should work at their institution. But given higher ed’s weakening competitive position on pay and other benefits, campus leaders will have to clearly define, strengthen, and articulate a compelling EVP if they are going to attract and retain top talent.

Higher ed struggling to compete on all fronts

Three reasons higher ed is losing out on top talent

Wage premium for out-of-sector roles is sky high

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    of full-time workers with master’s degrees earn less than $50K in higher ed

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    Average salary increase for leaving higher ed

Lack of career paths is #1 source of dissatisfaction

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    of respondents agree/strongly agree they are paid fairly (by their institution)


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    of respondents agree/strongly agree they have advancement opportunities (at their institution)


Novelty of tuition remission is fading

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    of employers offered tuition benefits in 2022

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    of employers plan to offer student loan repayment assistance

Source: CUPA-HR, 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey; IFEBP, Student Loan Repayment Assistance Benefits: August 2022 Pulse Survey; SHRM, SHRM Releases 2022 Employee Benefits Survey; EAB analysis of 2021 American Communities Survey data; EAB’s Talent Questionnaire (2022); EAB interviews and analysis.

Since EVP is still quite new to the higher ed sector, EAB conducted a series of research interviews with out-of-sector employers to pinpoint transferrable lessons and practices from organizations with years of experience investing in EVP. Below, we have outlined some of the most common misconceptions about EVPs among higher ed leaders―and what they must know and do instead.

Misconception 1: EVP is just a list of all the standard benefits and employment perks

When I ask campus leaders to describe their employee value proposition, I often hear a similar refrain: “We offer great retirement and healthcare packages, along with generous time off and tuition remission.” In one case, the chief human resources officer simply sent me a copy of their explanation of benefits statement!

While benefits like retirement and time off are certainly tangible ways that colleges and universities provide value to employees, they aren’t differentiators since most out-of-sector competitors offer the same (or even superior) options. Moreover, they don’t capture the intangible benefits of working at the institution, which can be even more important and compelling than traditional tangible perks, especially for younger workers. For example, 80% of U.S. respondents say that personal empowerment―clearly, an intangible benefit―is a strong expectation or deal breaker when considering a job.

Intangibles at the core of a compelling EVP

Percentage of U.S. respondents who say the following are a strong expectation or deal breaker when considering a job:

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    85% "career advancement"

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    80% personal empowerment

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    72% social impact

Sample intangible benefits that can differentiate your role(s) and institution from competitors:

  • High degree of work autonomy
  • Exposure to diverse service models, clientele
  • Ability to be creative, disruptive
  • Opportunities to give input that is valued, acted on
  • Shape, prepare future workforce
  • Help advance regional economic development

Source: Edelman, The Belief-Driven Employee; EAB interviews and analysis.

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    Key takeaway for campus leaders:

    Crafting a compelling employee value proposition in large part hinges on broadening the traditional definition of “benefits” and doubling down on the intangible gains and emotional rewards of working at your institution.

Misconception 2: An organization’s EVP should appeal to absolutely everyone

When developing an employee value proposition for their institution, campus leaders almost always assume they should strive for a broad but attractive EVP that will appeal to as many prospective candidates as possible. Most quickly learn, though, that this is no easy feat―nor is it actually an effective strategy.

Given the growing diversity of the higher ed workforce and differences in employee values and preferences, campus leaders would be hard-pressed to generate a single, standalone EVP that would be compelling for everyone. And while the concept of a broad EVP is well-intentioned, the outcome is typically a vague, generic EVP that employees and prospective candidates can’t relate to or that doesn’t prepare them for the reality of working at the organization.

A broad EVP can do more harm than good

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    • Aligns with higher ed cultural norms (e.g., incorporating all perspectives)
    • Strives to be inclusive and meet needs of a diverse workforce
    • Attracts a wide range of applicants
    • Reduces risk of alienating current employees, fueling retention issues
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    • Results in vague, generic EVP that doesn’t compel applicants or employees
    • Current and prospective employees can’t see themselves or their experiences reflected in EVP
    • Doesn’t help filter applications, which creates more work for talent teams
    • Fails to set and align employee expectations upfront, leading to disengagement

Instead, the savviest out-of-sector organizations have realized that the best EVPs not only attract the right talent―they also repel the wrong talent. Some higher ed leaders resist this idea, partly because they not have had a strategic conversation about the talent their institution is or is not seeking.

But providing candid insight into what it is really like working at the organization―including potential challenges or frustrations―actually appeals to many of today’s prospective candidates. It also lightens the load on HR by helping pre-filter applicants. And ultimately it increases the odds of the institution finding and keeping well-aligned talent, thereby reducing disengagement and turnover in the long run.

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    Key takeaway for campus leaders:

    Worry less about trying to craft an employee value proposition that will appeal to everyone and instead ground your institution’s employee value proposition in a shared understanding of the specific talent that your campus wants to attract versus repel.

Misconception 3: EVP and employer brand are the same thing and can be used interchangeably

An employee value proposition should not be equated with an employer brand. EVP is internally focused and about delivering value to employees. In contrast, employer brand is externally focused and about marketing your EVP to strengthen your reputation as an employer and attract prospective talent. But many campus leaders use these terms interchangeably. While that may not seem like a big issue at first, it poses more risks and downstream problems than leaders often anticipate.

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    What is an employer brand?

    Employer brand is how an organization projects itself and its EVP externally in the market to bolster its reputation as an attractive place to work.

For starters, the lack of shared language and understanding among campus leaders can fuel confusion and stall progress. It also often creates an order-of-operations problem. Since employer brand is the projection of EVP in the market, EVP must come first. It is a critical prerequisite for employer brand.

Yet, campus leaders typically want to jump straight to the brand. And that’s understandable―it is more concrete, “fun,” and flashy. But if institutions do not build and refine their EVP first, they won’t have accurate, authentic information to promote. Plus, their brand will end up disconnected from reality and therefore less effective (and potentially even detrimental) in recruiting and retaining employees.

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    Key takeaway for campus leaders:

    Don’t confuse employee value proposition and employer brand. They are related, but employee value proposition is the underlying foundation for brand, so focus your efforts on your employee value proposition first.

Misconception 4: HR and marketing should be responsible for creating and managing EVP

While most higher ed leaders recognize the strategic value of a compelling employee value proposition, they often hand off their institution’s EVP work to either HR or marketing. These groups certainly bring important skills and expertise to the EVP conversation, but they often do not have the authority needed to set strategy, make tough prioritization decisions, or garner widespread support. Moreover, they may lack the needed breadth and depth of expertise to craft an institution-wide EVP.

HR and marketing are key partners for execution but can’t tackle EVP alone

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    Why the cabinet must spearhead EVP

    • Experience setting and aligning with institutional strategy and goals
    • Authority needed to garner support and make prioritization decisions
    • Expertise in division- and unit-specific factors and priorities
    • Exposure to the full breadth of employees and high-performers
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    What HR and marketing bring to the table

    • Familiarity with the EVP concept and ROI
    • Access to employee data and market intelligence
    • Knowledge of current benefits, talent programs, and policies
    • Experience with external messaging and brand initiatives

The good news is that an institution’s senior leadership team possesses all these capabilities. In fact, our research on out-of-sector organizations showed one of the biggest determinants of EVP success is continuous and active leadership involvement, especially during early development stages. Unit leaders and managers also have an important role to play in providing input and feedback during EVP development, as well as helping embed the institution’s EVP into each step in the employee lifecycle.

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    Key takeaway for campus leaders:

    You can’t afford to ignore or delegate your institution’s employee value proposition. Take ownership of initiating and driving regular progress on employee value proposition work in partnership with your HR and marketing teams.

How to craft a compelling employee value proposition for your institution

To help institutions effectively recruit and retain talented employees, EAB has developed a series of presentations, tools, and workshops that walk senior leadership teams through the critical aspects of a compelling employee value proposition. This will enable them to create an EVP of their own that is provably true, conveys competitive advantage, and aligns with their business goals.

Reach out to your Strategic Leader today to schedule the first step in the process: an EAB-facilitated Introduction to Employee Value Proposition session for your campus leadership team.

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