Analysis: Employees' CSR views set comms challenge

Research published this week by lobby group Business in the Community suggests internal communication of companies' values and priorities is key to attracting and keeping talent.

If you were asked to give your honest opinion of your employer, would you have good things to say? Your answer would probably be determined by whether or not you thought the company had qualities you admired, lived up to its values, treated its employees fairly and produced high-quality goods or services.

New research suggests that most UK companies face a major internal marketing challenge - staff tend not to say good things about their employer.

Currently, only a quarter of British workers would speak highly of an employer without being asked, according to the Business in the Community (BITC) FastForward Research 2003 - unveiled at the organisation's annual conference this week - which concludes that CSR and internal comms are key to improving that performance.

What is more, most employees feel the organisation they work for is less responsible than it should be.

The implications for companies aiming to attract and retain top staff, as well as nurture a creative and committed workforce, are bad. The ability to attract key staff depends upon a strong corporate reputation, and the two are closely interlinked.

Corporations have for some years been tracking the CSR debate, and have acknowledged its increasing significance. But the majority of UK staff are dissatisfied with their employer's commitment to CSR, according to BITC. So are companies doing enough to ensure responsible business practice, or are they pulling their weight but not inspiring their employees with news of it?

FastForward 2003 was conducted among 1,000 British workers aged 25 to 65 working for an organisation with more than 20 staff. This was augmented by discussion groups with 40 first- and second-year undergraduates and 15 MBA students.

It found that although 88 per cent believe that it is important the organisation they work for is committed to functioning according to its values, only 45 per cent believe that their employer actually does.

In identifying the gulf that exists between what employees define as responsible behaviour and what they perceive to be the actual behaviour of their employer were four key values: recognising work-life balance, listening and acting on employee ideas, developing everyone's potential and promoting staff on merit.

When asked if they thought their employer recognised these values, around 40 per cent agreed they did for each of the four areas. However, around 60 per cent believed a 'responsible organisation' should adhere to all these values.

If these figures don't make the case for responsible behaviour towards employees as a key determinant of internal reputation, consider the fact that being treated as individuals was the third most important aspect employees look for when joining a new organisation, after the financial package and career development prospects.

More positively, 73 per cent of employees are proud to work for their organisation

The gap between employees' expectations and what they see as the reality at their own organisation may well be a comms issue, says BITC research and information director Charlotte Turner. 'It's about helping employees understand what the company does,' she adds.

'There is a lack of communication to employees about what values mean to the company, because we know there are many firms with excellent values and a strong commitment to them. But we want companies to link them back to individual employees.'

The study calls for a greater recognition among firms of the role values have in retaining key staff. One of the findings of the study was that MBA students as new recruits report a desire to understand the values of their employer as a key determinant for maintaining their commitment.

No-one is in any doubt that money is key to attracting top talent, but the research found that, over time, priorities change. Organisational values eventually supersede financial rewards as a key determinant in whether or not a staff member is satisfied and stays.

The study concludes that companies should improve communication of their actions: 'We often hear PR practitioners wanting to work closer with colleagues in other departments - CSR, HR, marketing - all across the company,' says Turner.

'We want companies to translate responsible business practice into responsible employment.'

If that can be engineered, the rewards will be a more committed, innovative and contented workforce.

CASE STUDY: BUPA

Employee satisfaction can feed positively back into financial performance and brand reputation. Global health and care organisation BUPA launched its One Life programme in 1998 to support the 'taking care of lives in our hands' vision.

This was part of its aim to create dynamism in the workplace for its staff. The objective, according to BUPA community affairs manager Monica Owen, was 'to encourage staff to recognise their unique and individual contribution to both high standards of customer service and stronger financial performance'.

At the same time, employee volunteering schemes aimed at the communities where staff lived and worked were formalised.

'The results speak for themselves, our business has grown 32 per cent and employee satisfaction increased by 20 per cent over the past three years,' says Owen.

BUPA, which sponsored the BITC's FastForward Research 2003, says the programme is ongoing and not yet complete.

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