Research from the Confederation of British Industry has seen a rise in the number of people who believe businesses in the UK have a good reputation. The study has compared perceptions of businesses between May and November 2017, and shown two in three people think UK businesses have a good reputation, up seven per cent in six months.
The results come from a tracker, created through a partnership of the CBI, Porter Novelli, and research company, Opinium. The tracker also showed that the public are more aware of the value business provides in local communities with an increasingly vocal business community emerging in recent months.
Importantly, the improvement in business reputation has largely been driven by young people and those in work, with a significant 15 per cent rise in positive views among 18-34 year olds. This, says the CBI, reinforces the view that younger people are more engaged in the debate about the UK’s future, with the Brexit negotiations and a sharper political debate intensifying the focus on jobs and the economy.
The survey found that the key driver of business reputation is a sense of pride in British business. The quality of British goods and services and the global reputation of UK business were cited by the public as having the biggest impact on reputation. Members of the public are also increasingly aware of the UK as a ‘service economy’, with more people of the opinion that businesses' biggest contribution to society are services (35 per cent) rather than goods (31 per cent).
The tracker shows most people have a positive relationship with their employers (67 per cent) and highlights the importance of businesses treating their employees well, with a nine per cent rise in the number of people saying that this is the best way to improve business reputation (now 69 per cent). The same principle applies to the treatment of customers too, with a seven per cent rise in those saying customer service is a priority when interacting with business (now 72 per cent).
There remains however a serious challenge for business with only half of people saying they understand how a company works, and 68 per cent believing that CEOs are out of touch with people’s lives. 82 per cent of respondents also said a firm’s record on data security is important when choosing which businesses to buy from - a clear warning sign to businesses given recent high-profile data breaches.
“There are a number of genuinely surprising results that go against expectations,” says Fenella Grey, managing director of Porter Novelli London. “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,” continues Grey. “Over the last six months this tracker has revealed an interesting change in what drives people to think positively about business, and it’s all about people. Businesses need to see that the better you regard your employees, the better the public regard you.”
Commenting on the research, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “CBI members are in no doubt: trust underpins growth. A strong relationship between business, employees and consumers will help to increase standards of living. Trust is built on understanding – the more the public see the benefits business brings, the better the relationship.
“That’s why these findings are potentially significant. Since May the debate about the role which business plays in society has reached new levels. This debate has rightly focused minds on the value of business in providing jobs, paying taxes and making the goods and services we all need.
The CBI says right now 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. They call upon businesses to redouble their efforts to show that the horror stories of tax avoidance, poor employment practices and excessive pay are the exception not the rule.
“Treating employees well is the best place to start,” says Hardie. “Our findings show that companies which look after their employees will be rewarded by the public, who say this is the best way to improve their views about business.
“Clear communication about the value businesses create locally is also essential - all must junk the jargon. And companies should focus on the issues which matter most to people, starting with business value being an integrated part of local industrial strategies.
“Making a link between company performance and social outcomes is the very best way to shape the public’s view of companies as responsible citizens,” he concludes.