The way organizations treated their employees in the first five weeks of the 2020 pandemic will likely have an effect on their brand for the next five years. And this, in turn, will affect everything from productivity and turnover to customer retention and recruiting.

Moving forward, the frequent questions from job candidates will be, "What happened to your organization during the pandemic?" And, "How did you take care of your employees, and what did you do to support them?"

No doubt, a people-first culture will continue to pay dividends for organizations that took this approach before — and during — the crisis.

There are two ways to think about brand. There's your external brand, the one we show to clients, potential customers, prospective employees. And there's your internal brand that relies on the employee experience.

The tide has turned for consumers. When consumers seek out a product or service, they are not only interested in what you're selling, they are also interested in the ethos of your organization. They are seeking transparency and openness.

They are buying your organization's mission, vision and values too. So how do you sell that? Focus on employees first.

A lot happens when you take a people-first focus. Research has shown that when employee engagement improves, your bottom line improves, too.

That's because people-centered Top Workplaces are more productive, attract the right talent and have employees who want to stick around. This leads to better revenue, happier customers, and, in the case of public companies, improved market performance.

Organizational performance is driven by people. People are driven by emotions that are a direct result of their experiences. Your culture is the sum total of those emotions and experiences.

That's certainly true during this pandemic. We compared employee engagement survey data from 1,700 organizations that completed the Energage Workplace Survey before March 15, 2020, with 700 organizations that completed the same survey since that date.

This analysis revealed across-the-board increases in culture driver scores since COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders took effect. That means employee engagement has strengthened for Top Workplaces organizations, as well as those that aspire to achieve the same status.

"The bottom line on this crisis is an important lesson in business: When the company takes care of its people, the people take care of the company," said Josh Bersin, author and human resources industry analyst.

Burke is a workplace improvement expert at Energage, a Philadelphia-based firm that partners with media companies in over 50 markets, including the Star Tribune, on Top Workplaces programs.