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Jobseekers prefer 'woke' businesses, says survey

13 Sep 2019 By Maggie Baska

Research highlights importance of social awareness, with younger candidates most focused on making a positive impact

Having a social purpose as an organisation is one of the most important factors for jobseekers when considering potential employers, according to new research.

A majority (84 per cent) of people said an employer that cares about its impact on society was important to them when it came to looking for a new job, with the same percentage also considering whether organisations held similar values to them. 

And nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of UK employers said social purpose was important for attracting new employees.

Henley Business School, which surveyed more than 2,000 workers and 500 business leaders, explored the extent to which an organisation’s social values or ‘woke-ness’ – awareness of social issues of injustice and inequality – influenced decisions around recruitment. 



The research suggested this awareness was particularly important for employers with an intake of younger people, as almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Gen-Z employees – those born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s – wanted a career that helped make a positive impact on society. 

Dr Naeema Pasha, director of careers at Henley Business School, said younger generations entering the workforce still saw pay and career progression as important, but having a ‘woke’ employer was increasingly taken into consideration.

“More than ever, younger generations want their values reflected in their employer’s values, and many will use this as a deciding factor when jobhunting,” said Pasha. “Businesses may have to turn their workplaces into ‘wokeplaces’ to attract and retain this new generation of workers.”

The Henley study also found that employers agreed on a number of the benefits of social purpose beyond recruitment, with 80 per cent seeing it as important for attracting and retaining new customers. 

But only a third (36 per cent) of employers said having a social purpose was a significant focus for them. 

Pasha said employers would also need to change how work was structured as younger generations increasingly expected to work longer hours but wanted greater flexibility in return. 

In particular, two-thirds (67 per cent) of Gen-Z workers would like a shorter working week, while a similar number (66 per cent) wanted to be able to choose their own technology at work. The study suggested younger workers saw less distinction between work and life, leading to a greater expectation of flexible working options. 

The new study linked to previous research by Henley which suggested compressed weeks and flexible working options led to increased productivity and improved physical and mental wellbeing. Half (50 per cent) of the business leaders surveyed said they had already enabled a four-day working week for some or all their staff and reported they were reaping the rewards of flexibility. 

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of employers reported an increase in productivity, as well as an improvement in the quality of work after implementing flexible working policies, including the option of a four-day work week. 

Henley’s newest findings, which shed further light on how the youngest generation feels about the future of work, were published to coincide with the business school’s third annual World of Work conference yesterday. 

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, spoke to delegates about what the future of work might hold and how HR could help businesses prepare for it. He called on more employers and people professionals to be transparent about how they were treating their employees to build trust within businesses. 

Cheese said this boiled down to “businesses being more transparent about how they are creating engaging cultures, how they are investing in their people, how they are really shifting their dialogue of diversity and inclusion because that is not just a social agenda, there is an economic agenda. How are they worrying about things like wellbeing? And if they understand them, why aren’t they being more transparent about it?” 

Beyond transparency and looking after employees, Cheese said he found it encouraging that more businesses and employers were taking part in debates on social change at regional and local levels. He explained this was particularly relevant when businesses worked with community organisations, local government, colleges and educators to change mindsets on work and the idea of what “good work” looked like within their area.

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