What makes a strong corporate reputation? While few brands would argue the need for effective management, quality products and a strong social responsibility platform, many are overlooking one of their greatest assets when it comes to reputation management: their employees.
It’s no secret that the proper treatment of employees is a key component of being a good corporate citizen. That in turn, plays into a company’s overall reputation in the market. Companies inherently know this, but recent research suggests that acting on this knowledge and bringing it to the forefront of their corporate reputation strategies could be a true difference maker for companies looking to stand out from the pack.
This type of thinking is particularly relevant in the context of a tight labor market, where companies and employees alike are looking to align with the best they can find. In the grand scope of the global market, there are only a handful of big-name companies that large percentage of the up-and-coming talent would love to work for. And why is that? Their reputations.
So what do employees really look for? To find out, Nielsen asked Future Talent, those who are close to graduating college or newly working professionals, what they look for in future employers as part of its 2015 Global Reputation Study. While responses about specific factors fluctuated from country to country, 85% of the respondents across 15 countries said employee treatment and welfare were more important than many other factors, including diversity of workforce, physical location, work-life balance and daily work responsibilities.
Attracting top talent is a chief goal for any company, but in the broader context of corporate reputation, it can mean much more than simply getting the work done. Being seen as a fair employer that cares about its employees is key to getting the right people in the door.
While employees are hired to perform business-specific job functions, their value in today’s market is much broader. From a reputational perspective, employees can play a big role in both protecting against and introducing risk. When asked what they believe are the top reputational risks and challenges facing companies today, Opinion Elites, people who are highly engaged and active when it comes to business issues, cited ethical issues significantly more than all others.
In looking at the recent data, the human factor is where companies are seen as having the greatest reputational vulnerabilities – decisions employees make each and every day. When asked in an open-ended way where risk existed for companies, ethics surfaced as top-of-mind at nearly twice the rate as more traditional elements like quality, service and competitive activity.
The hiring market, particularly in high-demand fields, is often viewed as more of a seller’s market than a buyer’s market. That puts the advantage in the hands of employees. From this perspective, it’s imperative that companies position themselves in ways that are appealing to their current and future workforces. If they don’t, attrition is likely and the companies will lose the ability to remain competitive.
To do this, employers need to think broadly and be sure to cast a wide net as they enlist new talent. Why? Because many people in the workforce appear leery about the talent pools in their backyards. When asked about their confidence in the local workforce in being able to meet the needs of global business today, only 41% of Opinion Elites across 16 countries said they were extremely confident or confident. At a more granular level, the percentages for extremely confident or confident were at or above 50% only in the U.S. (55%), Mexico (50%), China (57%) and India (60%).
Comparatively, perspectives from Future Talent were notably different. In fact, only 33% of Future Talent across 15 countries said they were extremely confident or confident that their local workforce can meet the needs of global business today. The fact that up-and-coming talent are less confident is noteworthy for multinationals, particularly those that will be growing over the next decade or so. Why? Because the recent survey findings highlight how mobile much of tomorrow’s workforce can be—especially for the right reasons.
The un-tethered nature of tomorrow’s global workforce is a significant trait. In fact, many people in or joining the workforce are willing to take jobs anywhere. So in that regard, the good talent that one company has access to is also the same talent that a company on the other side of the world also has access to. And with employees becoming increasingly focused on aligning with companies that share their values, a company’s local pool of talent is really a global one.
When asked about their willingness to relocate for the right opportunity, 39% of Future Talent across 15 countries said they would be willing to move internationally and 26% said they would be willing to move within their country. Only 13% said they were not willing to move for a job. Future Talent respondents in Mexico, Brazil, Italy and Singapore are the most willing to relocate internationally, while those in Japan, the U.S., Germany and China were the least willing to relocate internationally. Not to say that policies and pragmatics make it easy, but it is clear that there is unprecedented fluidity in thinking about employees as a global business asset.
The global workforce is competitive, and employees want to work for responsible companies. They also want to personally help their employers with their efforts and feel like they are contributing beyond the daily grind. When it comes to Future Talent, working for socially responsible companies is particularly important. They look for companies that are well regarded in this way, particularly in the communities they operate in.
In fact, 86% of the Future Talent from 15 countries say it’s important that the company they work for behaves in a socially responsible way. At a country level, the level of importance is highest in the U.S. and Brazil, where 94% of the Future Talent says it’s important to work for socially responsible companies.
And when it comes to activities companies take to play a social role, findings from the survey with Opinion Elites suggest that most people question the sincerity of these activities. In fact, 52% of Opinion Elites from 16 countries generally believe companies develop corporate social responsibility programs to improve their images rather than because they really care about making a positive difference. At a country level, skepticism is highest in Italy (66%) the U.K. (64%), Germany (64%), Mexico (59%) and Russia (62%).
In looking at the views of Opinion Elites regarding how businesses operate today, there’s a clear opportunity for companies to do a better job of leveraging employees in their citizenship efforts. Across 16 countries, only 33% of Opinion Elites believe companies play an active role in supporting the communities they operate in, and 32% believe companies are operating in a socially responsible manner. Even fewer (29%), importantly, believe companies today provide time and plans for employees to volunteer in their communities.
It’s clear that engaging employees in reputation management efforts – from going out in local communities to providing time-off for team volunteerism – is a missed opportunity among many corporations. Employees want to work for companies that do good, and engaging them directly in these efforts brings the human face of company to the forefront. It can also highlight the authenticity of the company’s actions. In addition to bolstering a company’s reputation, engaging its employees in meaningful ways can connect them to company values and a bigger purpose, both of which are key to retaining tomorrow’s workforce.
The insights in this article were derived from Nielsen’s 2015 Global Reputation Study with Opinion Elites and Future Talent, the third installment of this study. The Opinion Elite research consisted of a 25-minute, online survey conducted between Sept. 1 - 24, 2015, with 4,005 interviews across 16 countries. All Opinion Elites met the following criteria: aged 18+, follows news closely, and are informed on national business issues and are socially active. The Future Talent research consisted of a 25-minute, online survey conducted between Sept. 29 – Oct. 23, 2015, with 3,727 interviews across 15 countries. All Future Talents met the following criteria: aged 18+, college students within two years of graduating or graduates working 10 years or less and major(ed) or work in fields relevant to corporate careers. Results were weighted to be representative of key Opinion Elite and Future Talent population demographics present within each country sampled.