‘Conscious quitting’: Paul Polman warns that employees will walk away from businesses with weak values

Former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman has outlined the results of a survey of more than 4,000 workers across the US and UK, claiming that the workforce is “entering an era of conscious quitting” where employees will walk away from businesses that fail to showcase strong values related to society and the environment.

‘Conscious quitting’: Paul Polman warns that employees will walk away from businesses with weak values

Polman took to LinkedIn to announce the publication of the first ever Net Positive Employee Barometer – a survey of more than 4,000 workers across the US and UK.

It found that the majority (68%) of UK employees aren’t currently satisfied with corporate efforts to improve societal wellbeing and the environment. Indeed, these employees stated that while they want to work for companies with strong track records of delivering positive impact, they feel that current business efforts were lacking.

More than 75% also stated that public-facing commitments to tackling environmental and social issues were now key criteria for the jobs that they apply for. In total, 45% of employees claimed they would consider quitting and resigning from a position if corporate values did not align with their own.

On LinkedIn, Polman stated: “Forget quiet quitting, we are entering an era of conscious quitting. And the problem with most of the advice being offered to C-Suites on attracting and retaining talent is that it misses the full picture of what employees want and need. Don’t get me wrong: the numerous studies telling us that people want better pay, more flexibility and greater well-being are absolutely right. But, to be candid, shouldn’t this be rather obvious to senior leaders? And what about the fact that, on top of money and flexibility, many people also crave jobs that offer fulfillment, in companies which are trying to fix the world’s problems, rather than create them.

“We are living through an unprecedented moment in human history; a time of “perma-crisis”, where pandemics, war, global warming, economic turmoil and social division are, in varying degrees, threatening our stability and future. Younger employees especially fear for the world they will inherit. It should not come as such a surprise that many want to give their time and talents to companies who are striving to be part of the solution. Or that, when their companies let them down, strikingly high numbers say they will walk.”

As outlined in his new book “Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take”, Polman believes that businesses can turn the many pressing challenges facing society into ways for businesses to drive resiliency by changing their business models. You can listen to an edie interview with Polman on how he believes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be achieved here.

Polman states that employees are seeing an “ambition gap” between their values and that of the companies they work for, with many claiming that chief executives and senior leaders simply “don’t care”.

The report identifies three ways that companies can start to close this ambition gap. Firstly, companies need to show greater ambition on values and impact. Secondly, companies need to revamp how they communicate their values and finally, they must empower employees to help them reach their goals.

Polman’s survey comes just weeks after research released by KPMG warned that the UK workforce was starting to be filled with “climate quitters”.

The research found that 20% of UK office workers would turn down a job if environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors were deemed lacking, with almost half of workers wanting their employers to demonstrate climate and social commitments.

Across all age categories, 82% of UK workers want to be able to link values and purpose with the organisation they work for. Indeed, 30% have researched a company’s ESG credentials before applying for a role. Environmental impacts (46%) and living wage policies (45%) were the key factors that workers looked at.

Last year, a survey from Censuswide on behalf of Arriva found that the majority of UK adults would consider leaving their current job in order to pursue a role they perceive as “greener”.

See Paul Polman at edie 23

Taking place in London on 1-2 March 2023, edie’s biggest annual event has undergone a major revamp to become edie 23, with a new name, new venue, multiple new content streams and myriad innovative event features and networking opportunities.

edie 23 will take place at the state-of-the-art 133 Houndsditch conference venue in central London. Held over two floors, the event will offer up two full days of keynotes, panels, best-practice case studies and audience-led discussions across three themed stages – Strategy, Net-Zero and Action.

Paul Polman is speaking during the keynote morning session on day two at edie 23. The session, “Business and the Global Goals: The reality check” will see Polman joined by Kenyan activist Elizabeth Wathuti to provide a much-needed SDG progress update, outlining the key steps that every business and employee can make to achieve them.

Click here for full information and to book your ticket.

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