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Staff care about the company they keep

Staff care about the company they keep

The collapse in your social standing is just one of the perils of working for an organisation with a bad reputation.

It is one way to kill a dinner party. The icebreaker question: "So, what do you do for a crust?" starts an avalanche of disaster stories as the other guests regale you with problems they have had dealing with your employer. The collapse in your social standing is just one of the perils of working for an organisation with a bad reputation.

While working during the anti-bank sentiment in the 1990s, Westpac employees reportedly avoided being seen out of the office wearing their uniforms. It is a measure of the amount of time, money and effort that has gone into repairing the damage that Westpac was one of only six banks included in the World Economic Forum Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations two years ago.

Recruitment industry sources say companies with bad reputations may have to pay 30 per cent more than their competitors to attract staff. At a tobacco company, a marketing director who would pull in $400,000 to $500,000 elsewhere can command a salary of $800,000.

New research shows that Australians are particularly concerned about issues of corporate social responsibility.

A global survey by human resources firm Towers Perrin-ISR of 94,000 people in 21 countries finds that 63 per cent of Australians say their company's reputation for social responsibility is a factor in retaining them as employees, compared with 57 per cent globally.

The trend towards finding an employer with a good reputation stood out as a significant difference between Australians and those from other countries, says the managing principal of Towers Perrin-ISR, Dr Hamish Deery.

Interestingly, the research shows that while corporate social responsibility was the second-most important factor in keeping existing employees, it was not nearly so important for those who were out looking for a new job.

A company's reputation only comes ninth on the list of drivers of attraction (eighth globally) for job seekers, showing that it is one of the "nice to have" factors for recruits - but doesn't become really necessary until they are in place behind their desk.

For job seekers, it is overshadowed by factors such as competitive base pay, convenient work location, opportunities to learn new skills and challenging work.

But when it comes to having an effective workforce, company reputation increases its importance to become the No. 1 factor in staff engagement.

"The survey showed that employee retention is most strongly influenced by the behaviour of the organisation and its senior leaders, as well as the learning and career development opportunities available," Deery says.

"This includes concern for employees' wellbeing, as well as a concern for the environment."

Director of recruitment firm Talent2, John Banks, says people may choose to work for companies that operate in unpopular industries for a number of reasons. They may not have a personal objection to the business or they may decide that it presents opportunities and rewards that cannot be ignored.

It is also rare for people to be tainted by their association with an unpopular industry because, when recruiting, organisations are generally more interested in the skills and capabilities of the recruit than the reputation of the former employer.

He recalled that the chief executive of the Heart Foundation, Lyn Roberts had once worked as a laboratory assistant paid by a tobacco company to find a safe cigarette. Dr Roberts was later reported to have said it did not take long for the research team to realise it had been set an impossible task.

Employers with outstanding reputations include Google, Microsoft and eBay.

"People like to be associated with success," says Banks.

The airlines Qantas and Virgin are in good standing because of the perception of discounted flights for staff and the attractions of working in the travel industry.

Macquarie Bank, although a hard driver of its employees, still has people lining up to join because of its reputation as the 'millionaires' factory' ", says Banks.

The managing director of the Slade Group recruitment firm, Anita Ziemer, jokingly says she would like to be able to publish an index for analysts based on the stories she hears from disgruntled employees of companies who do not treat their people well.

"We get a sense really early on when people at a company are not switched on - well before the market gets a hold of it," she says.

Ziemer agrees with the Towers Perrin-ISR research that corporate social responsibility is not high on the list of things a job seeker is looking for.

"I don't think we have ever been asked about it, to be frank," she says.

However, when a company has a bad attitude to its people the word quickly gets around, she says, and the bad impression can start right with the interview process, when the job seeker is given the run-around with too many interviews (between four and six is pretty common) and gets the impression that they continually have to prove why they are up to the job.

"The company gives the impression that they have all the power and don't try to sell the job to the interviewee," she says.

Ziemer says some companies, even some of the biggest, get it so wrong that Slade now refuses to send people for interviews.

"We have had too many people come back and say: 'I would never work there'."

The case for corporate social responsibility may have been made for employees, but Australian businesses still are just not getting it, according to the executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, Simon Longstaff. The ethics centre runs the Corporate Responsibility Index.

Dr Longstaff says organisations in North and South America and Europe have been more effective in making reputation work. The reason for this, he says, is that Australia's education of corporate leaders is too narrowly focused.

In Australia, preparation for corporate life generally comprises a degree in law, accountancy or commerce, where leaders in those other countries often have undergraduate degrees in other areas before specialising.

In those other countries, people running organisations often have a fine arts degree, or are experts in history or languages - which can give them a wider perspective of the world and their place in it.

The things that matter

Three sets of drivers for staff motivation

Attracting staff

* Competitive base pay

* Convenient work location

* Opportunities to learn new skills

* Challenging work

* Career advancement opportunities

* Flexible schedule

* Reasonable workload

* Holiday/paid time off

* Reputation of the organisation as a great place to work

* Calibre of co-workers

Retaining staff

* Has excellent career opportunities

* Organisation's reputation as a great place to work

* Feelings about immediate manager

* Has received adequate training for job

* Organisation's reputation for social responsibility

Engaging staff

* Organisation's reputation as a great place to work

* Senior management acts to ensure organisation's long-term success

* Can impact quality of work/product/service

* Has excellent career advancement opportunities

* Appropriate amount of authority to do my job well

* Organisation's reputation for social responsibility

* Supervisor encourages and empowers people to take initiative in their work

* Has set high goals to accomplish things professionally

* Can impact customer satisfaction

* Senior management is sincerely interested in employee well-being.

Fairfax Business Media

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