By Angelika Bialowas and Jonathan Andrews, Future Trainee Solicitors at Reed Smith LLP
Over June-July 2017, as part of a Business Intelligence Project for MA (LPC) as Future Trainee Solicitors at Reed Smith LLP, we undertook a research project for the City of London Corporation. The project sought to understand the extent to which corporate values and ethical practices are important for young employees (aged 35 and under) in business, particularly in terms of recruitment and retention.
Existing research had suggested that young employees were attracted to employers with values matching their own, but it remained unclear which values most influenced the experiences of young employees working at, and applying to, professional services firms, and whether these were as important as other employment aspects, such as salary and career progression.
Our research involved carrying out interviews and an online survey with HR professionals and young employees working in professional services in the City. The research allowed us to look at the differences in interpretation of corporate values and ethics between the two groups, uncover any misperceptions concerning the importance of values, and determine particular terms that were most important to young workers. Some interesting themes and results emerged.
- The importance of values towards recruitment: In line with previous research, almost all respondents stated they would not work somewhere that did not fit their values, indicating the importance of values for applicants at the recruitment stage.
would not work somewhere that did not fit their values
However, when asked to consider the extent to which company values helped them choose where to work, none replied that it was the most important factor. The majority of young employees indicated that such values were just ‘one factor among many’. While values are clearly important to young employees, they must come as part of an attractive package and not be stand-alone.
2. The importance of values towards staff retention: the overwhelming factor impacting retention was career progression; over 80% respondents cited either ‘career/progression opportunities’ or ‘career development’ as the most important factor for deciding how long to remain with an organisation. This was closely followed by workplace environment, also variously expressed as ‘work-life balance’, ‘nature of work’. Only one respondent directly linked workplace environment to corporate values being ‘well implemented in practice’
3. Key values for young employees: Commonly cited as the most important values by young employees were ‘diversity’, ‘equality’, ‘meritocracy’ and ‘fair hiring’. Many also cited ‘work-life balance’ and ‘opportunities for career progression’. When considering examples of tangible actions to help imbed values, popular responses included more Corporate Social Responsibility/charity/pro bono initiatives, as well as initiatives to boost social mobility and diversity among staff. Openness around career progression was mentioned several times, this being a pervasive theme throughout questions; as was the idea of fixed yearly targets around initiatives tied to values, like standards for ethical supply chain
4. Perceptions of most important values to young employees: Interestingly, while HR professionals tended to agree with each other on what was most important to young employees, their answers varied substantially from those given by the employees themselves. HR professionals tended to be more abstract in their suggestions, whereas the majority of young employees tended to offer more specific issues not cited by HR. Both groups shared a dislike of values being merely ‘corporate speak’ or ‘just a piece of paper’, despite HR proposing abstract values which young employees would be likely to regard as just that. Differences in interpretation and a lack of communication between groups in this way showed itself likely to cause misunderstandings and lead to less joined-up values policy. This problem was also common between employees of different generations and levels of seniority.
shared a dislike of values being corporate speak
5. Recommended companies to others: Questions which asked for ‘one thing’ that made the employee most proud of the firm, and which would make them likely to recommend their company to a friend, were surprisingly similar. ‘Good working environment’, ‘work-life balance’ and ‘friendly atmosphere’ were collectively the most cited factor(s); several also cited an ‘open-door policy’. Other responses included diversity/meritocracy/social mobility, volunteering, team-working and high-quality work.
Our research results concluded that the fit between the individual’s and company’s values can influence how strongly employees, and potential employees, are attracted to, fit into, and remain committed to the company. Yet, the values of a company are just one among many factors that young employees consider when joining or staying at a firm. Despite this, there are potential ways that businesses can help create a stronger link between young employees and corporate values held.
One of our key recommendations for businesses was to conduct yearly meetings between HR and employees, where employees can discuss their interpretations of values, how they would like to role-model them, and whether they feel the firm supports them in expressing their values. More broadly, we also recommended discussions between employees of different seniority levels, different sectors and different generations on a regular basis.
Other recommendations included ensuring values were kept up to date and relevant at all times – one interviewee mentioned that his organisation had no plans to change any of the original values, despite all founders having since left. Companies should gleam from discussions with employees whether values, or values strategy, need to be updated or overhauled at any particular time.
By taking values and concerns such as career progression seriously, while tackling miscommunication and differences in interpretation around these issues, organisations can strengthen their chances of recruiting and retaining the best talent among young employees.