HR · 29 July 2015

Can responsibility help make a business stand out for employees and customers?

Establishing training and mentoring opportunities within your local community from schools to unis is mutually beneficial
Establishing training and mentoring opportunities within your local community from schools to unis is mutually beneficial

There’s likely a long list of things you consider when getting a business up and running – determining what role it will play, what gap it will fill and who should be interested in it. Less high up on your list of priorities may well be responsibility and how important this is for your success.

A new study of 2,128 adults by IT company Ricoh however, has found both employees and consumers are incredibly aware of the behaviour of businesses – and this affects their dealings with firms. Over half of customers were more likely to buy from companies that act in a responsible way – even when set up against cheaper alternatives.

Then 43 per cent of respondents said firms should choose their customers and partners based on ethical principles, while treatment of workers and the environment were considered important too. Some 77 per cent said businesses must treat employees well to be considered a responsible firm and 57 per cent of workers feel businesses should reduce environmental impact as much as possible.

Employees weren’t just motivated by salary in deciding whether to work for a business – an important consideration if you’re looking to recruit, but fear you’ll lose out to bigger companies with greater resources. UK workers mentioned paying the correct tax, the environment and choice of partners as important criteria for a responsible firm.

Phil Keoghan, CEO of Ricoh, said: “In this new environment of instant information and increased scrutiny, the pursuit of business growth must be met with commitments to social responsibility and sustainability.”

He added that “more than ever, the value of a business is measured in terms of its wider contribution to employees, customers and the community as well as its profits and growth”.

58 per cent of workers felt that that businesses should reduce environmental impact
Some 58 per cent of workers felt that that businesses should reduce environmental impact

The Ricoh report suggested that establishing responsibility as a priority can improve brand reputation with customers and the general public, as well as “inspire and engage the workforce”. The value in loving what you do as a job may seem an unattainable luxury for many, but a socially responsible business is likely to make workers more engaged with the ethos and feel more positively about the company.

We’ve heard it said numerous times, but empowering your employees is an effective path to growth and productivity. As the study reflected: “A happy workforce will improve working cultures and practices, leading to increased revenue.”

It’s something noticed by the public – 79 per cent of those surveyed said they felt businesses had to treat employees well to be considered a responsible business. You may wonder what that actually means – one person’s “well” may be quite different to another’s. For a smaller business though, you have the advantage of building out from a smaller workforce, so there’s really no excuse for not being on top of what they expect and would like to see from you as an employer. Engagement can establish an open line of communication that can’t be underestimated in keeping employees happy.

An appreciation for the move towards a different way of working can also come in handy here. The government changed legislation in 2014 to provide greater opportunity for all employees to request a change in their hours, timing or location of work (as long as they’d been working at their company for 26 weeks). Research done to judge the impact a year on suggested many businesses weren’t yet totally on board with the idea. A study by Unify found that more than a third of UK workers (37 per cent) said their businesses still didn’t offer flexible working. Interestingly, 39 per cent said they would show more loyalty to a firm if flexible working was an option. Some 24 per cent said they’d be more likely to recommend a company if it was offered.

Again, as a smaller business, you have the advantage of being able to instil that culture change from the off. Ensuring any new employee is comfortable with technology means working remotely will be both a viable option and more likely than not, a successful one.

The access to WiFi, 4G networks and better video streaming services for conferencing has meant transferring work outside of an office should be relatively seamless.

Improvements in technology mean flexible working is a great option to offer
Improvements in technology mean flexible working is a great option to offer

Presence doesn’t necessarily equal productivity and as an employer who will be setting out your own stall for the future of your business, acknowledging that, and letting any employees know that too, will do wonders for the embracing of flexible working. You then benefit from any prospective workers knowing it’s a working solution in your firm and it serves to put you one up against many other competitors who haven’t been able to make such a commitment to the policy.

Business owners are often working incredibly long hours, particularly in the early stages to make their company a success, but considering a more all-encompassing approach to work gains kudos from employees too. Some 33 per cent said they would consider their organisation to be responsible if it provided support for the community and 17 per cent thought supporting education in local schools was a key initiative for responsible businesses. Getting involved with training and mentoring in the local area can be a valuable use of your time, as well as establishing good contacts for example, with a university and talent there.

A solid gauge of businesses doing well in terms of employee welfare is The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For. Insurance provider Simply Business came top for the mid-sized category and a popular introduction was the company’s Impact programme, where employees self-select themselves to volunteer for charity. The business contributes the working days for it and it was a popular success for 2014, raising £70,000.

It’s a sensible and achievable way to improve employee goodwill and attract potential customers. Looking at how to make your business greener and more involved with the community will help to distinguish you from others, and help you start carving out a positive reputation for your business.

Image: Shutterstock

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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