Business must sharpen up its bad image

Business
has to improve its appalling image to a disaffected public angry at senior
execs whose daily purpose, it believes, is to “rip off” workers, shareholders
and customers, Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, told a high-ranking HR
group in London.

At
the same time Michael Portillo, Tory MP, warned the UK was suffering a “deficit
of idealism” that needed to be injected back into the country and into
business. He said many within the middle classes were now shut out from the
process of wealth creation. They were badly disaffected because they believed
companies were socially irresponsible, and instead, were out to wreck needy
populations and developing countries. Both charged HR with playing a pivotal
role in changing these perceptions.

Jones
and Portillo were addressing the inaugural gathering of the newly launched Personnel Today HR Directors Club last
week in the midst of the ‘fat cat’ furore and government threats to legislate
against rewards for failure.

Portillo
said part of HR’s future role would be to help leaders and politicians create a
sense of people working together for the common good. He added that we had to
convince both employees and the public that the creation of wealth was a “noble
task”, necessary to fund things such as public health and the less fortunate.

“Employees
want to feel a sense of value in what they do,” he stated. “They need to be
imbued with the message that wealth creation is an ethical pursuit.”

Jones,
meanwhile, warned against legislation on fat cat pay-outs and said there should
be no ceiling imposed on financial rewards for work done well. But he admitted
the business world had to be seen to be “getting its own house in order on
reward for failure”.

He
said an image change for business would also come from being seen to be more
socially inclusive in the way it went about wealth creation. The UK had to grow
businesses from the people point of view.

Jones
urged HR to help drive true corporate social responsibility, by hiring some of
the UK total of 5.3 million disabled people, for instance. He said 2.4 million
were out of work. One million of those could work, yet were not employed. Yet
we pay 3.5 million people to work who are functionally illiterate. Literacy
rates in the world’s fourth-largest economy were a disgrace, said Jones. “We’ve
got to get engaged,” he said, appealing to HR directors not to sack illiterate
workers if they came across them, but instead to teach them, to help drive
improvements in literacy and basic skills.

The
average person employed without the ability to read and write was white, 30 and
male. They needed jobs if they were not to lose self-respect and turn to crime,
drink or drugs.

Jones
added that black graduates were still two-and-half times more likely to be on
the dole than their white counterparts. Business must create true diversity in
the workplace, and employer morality. If it is to improve its image, he warned,
it has to “show it is socially inclusive in the way we go about wealth
creation”.

He
told delegates the business world had a responsibility for the next generation.
“If we don’t get things right this century, people in the next would never
forgive us, he concluded.

  1. The HR
    Directors Club provides business inspiration and networking for HR
    directors in organisations with 1,000-plus employees. Members can join by
    registering at www.hrdirectorsclub.com
  2. The club is supported by
    six sponsors offering quality services to the HR profession. The sponsors
    are: Arinso, DDI, DBM, PeopleSoft, PricewatershouseCoopers and Xchanging.  

  3. The next
    breakfast briefing is scheduled for September 17.  Full details are available on this
    website.
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