By: Tania Fiero

Published By: The San Diego Business Journal.

Mention corporate America in some circles, and the first word you’ll hear is “greedy.” Look to the media, and you’ll see no shortage of stereotyping there, either. And this holiday season, you’ll again watch Ebenezer Scrooge bully his employee Bob Cratchit.

Honestly, I’m sick of it. Corporations are not greedy. Quite simply, they’re groups of people who are acting as one entity for legal and tax purposes. For-profit corporations earn money for their shareholders, while nonprofits provide services to society.

Both types of corporations must make budgetary decisions about how they’ll balance their revenues, expenses, and investments. Of course, when executives make unethical decisions about budget issues, we get scandals like Enron, Wells Fargo, and AIG. I’m not defending leaders’ bad behavior, but it’s grossly reductionist to argue that even those corporations are “greedy.” Temporarily led by dishonest executives, maybe.

Here’s the bottom line: If corporations can’t turn a profit, they cease to exist. And when they do make a profit, they can do great things for their workers and communities.

The Truth of Corporate Ethics

Think about all the social good performed by America’s biggest corporations. Microsoft supports medical missions throughout the developing world. Capital One is known for its financial education and workforce development programs. PepsiCo provides disaster relief and nutritious meals to impoverished communities. The list goes on and on.

For every greedy executive, there are thousands of corporations making the world a better place. They pull communities out of poverty, give workers growth opportunities, respect the planet, and pay their fair share of taxes to support local services and infrastructure.

At most corporations, meeting this triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit is an expectation. But even corporations that aren’t altruistic simply for the sake of doing good recognize that it’s good for business.

In particular, unethical employers have little hope of wooing top talent. According to a study by Cone Communications, 88 percent of Millennials find jobs fulfilling when they have opportunities to contribute to the social and environmental bottom lines.

And make no mistake: Competition for the best workers is fierce. With the unemployment rate at a record low of 4.1 percent, employees can afford to work where they want and how they want. It’s one of the big drivers behind the gig economy’s growth, which, by the way, is no more evil than the rest of the labor economy. To compete, today’s HR teams have to develop employee perks and branding that woo socially conscious candidates.

Show Workers Your Scruples

If you’d expect workers to say, “Bah! Humbug!” to employer benevolence, you’d be wrong. These days, websites like Glassdoor allow employees to rate their bosses, and nearly every publication that reports on business has its own list of the best places to work.

Companies use the following tools to cultivate the kind of reputation that brings talented people to their door:

1. Better salaries

Sure, money buys shiny toys, but it also provides stability and opportunity. No wonder 54 percent of those polled in a recent Gallup survey said they’d leave a company for a raise of 20 percent or less if they’re not excited about their work. But if you can’t blame workers for wanting to earn more money, then why would you do so for executives? Paying better salaries brings in better talent, and the best companies know that.

2. Better benefits

Robust benefits matter almost as much as a strong salary. Since Gallup started asking the question in 1997, workers have worried more about losing benefits than any other job-related stressor. That’s why top companies are offering their gig workers benefits, including professional development and even healthcare and retirement. Others have recognized that tailoring benefits to their generational hiring habits is a smart approach. According to a survey by Anthem Inc., 35 percent of Millennials will turn down a job offer if they don’t like the benefits.

3. A great workplace culture

Another thing that Millennials love, and have been mocked for, is the trendy office with a ping-pong table, beer on tap, and catered meals. But in truth, those are peripheral to what makes a strong workplace culture. Culture, at its heart, describes how a company’s team members interact, make decisions, and pursue company goals. Amenities are great, but once the honeymoon period passes, employees want to work for companies with cultures of transparency, ethical decision-making, clear communication, and celebration. A third of HR departments consider creating such a culture their top priority.

4. Flexible work options

Even when the office is a fun place to be, employees sometimes need to be at home. Fortunately, technology gives workers the power to complete many tasks remotely. At companies that allow remote work, employees are 25 percent less likely to leave, according to OwlLabs. Remember Scrooge’s holiday leave policy? Smart employers know better than to chain their Bob Cratchits to their desks.

5. Family-friendly policies

Along with the ability to work remotely, employees are looking for companies that allow them to have a family without sacrificing their career. Companies that provide on-site daycare and paid maternity and paternity leave are much more attractive for family-oriented professionals. According to a Gallup poll, for 53 percent stay-at-home mothers, flexible hours and work schedules are one of the most important aspects of choosing a job. That’s a big slice of the workforce that companies can’t afford to ignore.

6. Collaborative management models

One thing workers and executives — 86 percent of them, anyway — can agree on is that poor teamwork and communication are prime culprits of workplace problems. To increase collaboration, companies are getting creative. Zappos created a lot of buzz by going holacratic, but many more companies are experimenting with flat management structures. Here at IES, we use cross-functional, employee-led “teams of teams” to accomplish more than we ever could with an ivory-tower approach. Great companies know that workers have as much or more experience with day-to-day business problems than executives do.

Smart employers treat their workers well. But what pays for all those perks? Profits. When corporations don’t earn money, they can’t pay for fair salaries or paternity leave, and they can’t afford to prioritize things like culture or collaborative management. So next time you hear someone complain about corporate greed, remind them of corporate good.

Tania Fiero is vice president of human resources at Innovative Employee Solutions, a leading nationwide employer of record that specializes in human relations and payroll services. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row. 

An expert in joint employment and the Affordable Care Act, Tania helps employers embrace contingent workers in their staffing strategy and culture. She is a Society of Human Resources Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and a Certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) via the Human Resources Certification Institution. Tania previously served on the Board of Directors for the National Human Resources Association of San Diego. She was recognized in 2016 by the San Diego Human Resources Forum Board of Directors at its HR Executive of the Year event and in 2011 by the San Diego Business Journal as San Diego’s HR Professional of the Year.

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