Why providing jobs (and good ones at that) is the top driver of business reputation

Treating employees well is the best way for companies to improve the reputation of businesses, says the latest installment of a CBI and Porter Novelli campaign to showcase the business community's contribution to UK society.

The business lobby group and the global PR firm's partnership kicked off last year with a report suggesting the public wanted business to stop using jargon and engage more directly with workers.

In 2018, the CBI says it will continue this Value of Business campaign by promoting business behaviours which "improve employee satisfaction, diversity and inclusion", help firms to "communicate the value they create in a way that resonates with people" and support local strategies which reduce inequality and raise prosperity across every part of the country.

Today's new research, conducted by Opinium in October with 2,000 Britons, again asks what actions would most improve the reputation of UK business. The top response is 'treating their employees well', selected by 69 per cent of respondents, followed by 'being transparent about tax (56 per cent), 'transparent product sourcing' (46 per cent) and 'engage with the public' (46 per cent).

"The public is clear in its expectations that job creation should be the biggest contribution business makes to local communities," the report says.

When asked, 'What is the most important contribution business should make to UK society?', those surveyed put 'providing jobs' a long way ahead of the options on offer, with 'paying taxes' a distant second.

However, when asked about the biggest contribution that the company they work for makes, people become far more likely to talk about the services they provide, rather than the jobs they provide.

"Employees take pride in their work delivering the key goods and services their companies provide. Employers who can harness this insight and talk about how their company is delivering social outcomes via the products they create are likely to gain from improvements in reputation among their employees, but also the wider public," the report suggests. This echoes a finding from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Reputational boost

Elsewhere, the report shows an improvement in public opinions of business between the research for the first survey in the spring, and October's polling for today's release.

The number of people saying UK business has a good reputation is 65 per cent, up seven percentage points, while the number agreeing that they know very little about what businesses actually do dropped by the same figure, to 31 per cent.

It also found that 69 per cent of people agreed that the heads of business are "far removed" from ordinary peoples' lives, although this is down from 77 per cent in the previous study.

Porter Novelli London MD Fenella Grey commented: "The fact that the reputation of business has improved over the past months despite a backdrop of uncertainty caused by Brexit and slowing economic growth is really positive news for the UK. It shows 'UK plc' is alive and kicking, and remains an important place to do business.

"What is really unexpected is that this positive shift in opinion occurred amongst millennials who in reality have the greatest number of reasons to be unhappy, as they will be working with an uncertainty created by a Brexit the majority of them didn’t want."

CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said: "Businesses up and down the country can do more to step up their engagement with employees and customers, to explain how they are making a positive difference in their communities and workplaces. Business must redouble their efforts to show that the horror stories of tax avoidance, poor employment practices and excessive pay are the exception, not the rule."

Elsewhere, the study finds that having good data security is the most sought-after of nine characteristics the public looks for in a business it might buy from or work with, ahead of making people happier and healthier, valuing women's equality and taking steps to reduce unequal pay.

Read next: Data protection concerns catapult M&S to top UK spot in authenticity study

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