Guest opinion by Ann Summerhayes
Our film production company has recently been recruiting for a production trainee for an exciting new scheme partnering with one of the country’s biggest mental health charities. We were clear that we wanted to give the role to someone who was good, yes, but also who needed an opportunity to shine that they may have been otherwise unable to get.
It got us thinking, do businesses have a moral and social duty to provide jobs?
The fact is that organisations operate within a broader social and economic context, and their activities can have a significant impact on society. Businesses are actors in society, and as a society built on relationships and networks, we have an obligation to do the right thing by them. It might not be in our Board strategy, or part of regulatory compliance, but generally most people want to be decent, and do the right thing.
Ethical business practices require that businesses consider the impact of their operations on employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment. Environmental, social and governance strategies are now baked into the fabric of business, with one recent study reporting that nine in 10 companies in the UK, US and Canada have an ESG policy in place.
Creating job opportunities is one way in which businesses can contribute positively to society. Getting people into work, or back into work, is one of the most valuable things a business can do, as the right job can be life changing.
For a start, being strapped for cash isn’t fun for anyone, and struggling to make ends meet damages our physical and mental health. Numerous studies show that it is those in the poorer sections of society who are most likely to have health issues.
It’s not just a good deed, it makes financial sense. By providing employment, businesses can help to reduce unemployment and poverty, improve living standards, and promote economic growth
At the same time, stress, overwork and constantly striving to achieve result in burnout, and we’re seeing a growing wave of this in our always on society. But when we are in a job that values our contributions, respects work life balance, uses our skills well and helps us develop new skills, and is aligned to our values, that can feel liberating, and give us a purpose.
One of the other things on every business agenda is diversity, equality and inclusion. We all talk about DEI, but providing jobs is one of the ways to walk that talk. Businesses can create jobs, employment and training opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds, including those from disadvantaged or marginalised communities.
And it’s not just entry-level jobs. We know that women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are all underrepresented at board and c-suite levels, and we need to not only get them in a company, but provide the routes to elevate their careers.
Business relations are at their core, the result of interpersonal relationships. We care about the people we work with, and want to support them to flourish. It’s not only about being a good business, but a person in society.
It’s not just a good deed, it makes financial sense. By providing employment, businesses can help to reduce unemployment and poverty, improve living standards, and promote economic growth.
Imagine the difference it could make to people’s confidence and potential, with future opportunities opened because of that first initial job
They also get people on board to help grow their own business. Having no resource costs you money. Your business will be less productive, teams will have to pick up the slack and become burned out and resentful, and you may even lose business. Having a vacant chair can cost thousands a month. A good employee brings in thousands a month.
It’s not about taking pity on people, but seeing potential, beyond socio-economic, gender, disability and other inequalities that may prevent someone from accessing the opportunities out there – and providing them the connection to them.
It’s about looking past CVs, and seeing potential – and knowing your business is geared up to help that potential flourish. Providing jobs requires some work yourself – are you set up to be a workplace where people will be supported, challenged and engaged enough to do their best and contribute their best? And are you?
Social enterprises do business differently. Focusing on investing profits on projects and causes that matter to them, they care less about shareholder profits and more about doing the right thing. What if we all took a leaf out of their book?
According to the latest available data from 2021, the top 100 companies in the UK had a combined profit of approximately £108 billion. If these companies were to invest 1% of their profits in wages for new jobs, that could create 54,000 entry level jobs (based on an average salary for full time work at London Living Wage).
Imagine the difference that could make to households around the country – households who are struggling to make ends meet. Imagine the difference it could make to people’s confidence and potential, with future opportunities opened because of that first initial job. And imagine the difference it could make to businesses who get access to a wealth of experience, ideas and ways of working that could transform workplaces. Good jobs just make sense.
So maybe we don’t have a duty to give jobs to just anyone. But if we want a successful business that is part of the fabric of society in terms of both profit and purpose, providing meaningful work is what we have to do. Smart businesses give the right jobs to the right people, knowing that the rewards will be tenfold.
Ann Summerhayes is CEO of Inside Job Productions
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