TUESDAY 16 AUG 2022 2:07 PM


Steve Leigh, managing director of Sensu Insight, considers how companies are inching further into the political space

How a company responds to a world crisis or ESG concern is an effective external representation of its internal ethos and values. The recent events in Ukraine saw many examples of this, as customer-facing businesses issued responses and actions in reaction to the conflict, affecting perceptions of both employees and the wider public.

Our recent study involving 2,000 UK employees revealed that a third of employees (31%), aged 18-34, are more likely to want to work for businesses that acted swiftly against Russia. 

Evidently, people are increasingly taking social considerations and ESG issues into account when selecting new job roles. In another survey, our Employer Brand Report found that nearly a third (31%) of Gen Z employees (aged 18 to 24) stated they would choose to work for employers that actively prioritise ethical factors (such as diversity and inclusion) in the workplace.

When attempting to attract and hire the best talent, offering employee benefits and attractive pay packages are no longer enough. Businesses should be taking greater consideration of wider societal and global issues and responding accordingly.

So how should businesses cater to employee expectations to maintain a strong employer brand and reputation?

Responding to world crises

As a company’s response to pertinent world issues holds importance to many employees, ensuring that responses are handled with care is important. In our research, the organisations that gained the greatest approval and reputational boost were those that acted swiftly and communicated their decision clearly. McDonald’s came out on top for its response to the Ukraine war, with 28% of UK adults, who were aware of its actions, saying their view of the company had improved or significantly improved following its decision to stop trading in Russia.

Nestle also received a boost in public opinion, as although it decided to not suspend all activity in Russia, it received a positive impact score of +137, with 30% of those aware reporting an improved perception of the company due to the effective communication of its decision. 

Through a formal statement on its website, Nestle clearly set out its intentions to uphold the principle of ensuring Russian people retained the basic right to food. Nestle has committed to not making any profit through the operations and has halted all non-essential imports and exports in and out of Russia, stopped all advertising, and suspended all capital investment in the country.

Businesses with the most negative approval ratings, such as Apple and BP, were either thought to have been too slow to react (taking more than two weeks on average to respond, compared to ten days on average for the highest scoring brands), were closely associated with the Russian state or were perceived to have put business needs ahead of humanitarian concerns.

When responding to a world crisis, taking swift, decisive action that is clearly communicated in a transparent and honest manner can gain both public and employee respect and in turn may help to attract more talent.

Tackling ESG issues

Businesses also need to address the ESG issues closer to home, including diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our recent research revealed that 32% of Gen Z would not want to work for a company that doesn’t strive to achieve gender parity in pay, and 30% would not want to join a business that doesn’t have a diverse workforce. 

To satisfy the socially conscious next generation of jobseekers, businesses should be implementing a policy that includes a genuine commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, and a plan of action for the workplace. 

Making a business decision to confront these issues within the organisation will gain the company significant respect amongst employees and the public which can directly correlate to improved business revenue. The Wall Street Journal found that EBIT margins for companies with diverse management teams were nearly 10% higher than for companies with below-average management diversity.

To gain this reputational boost, as with larger global issues, communicating ESG actions clearly is business critical. If the company’s new policy is not communicated to the public and employees as genuine it is unlikely to be received positively. Ensuring that any statements are handled with care by communications professionals will encourage public and employee trust.

A difficult ask?

With businesses facing public and employee pressure to react responsibly to global and societal issues, changing expectations may seem difficult to manage. However, it seems that taking quick and decisive action that is communicated effectively and well thought through, no matter the issue, will maintain and even improve employee and public perception.