Are your employees ashamed to say they work for you?

One-fifth of British workers say they’re ashamed to admit who they work for to others.

A new study from the PRCA, in conjunction with Opinium Research, as part of its ‘Economics of Reputation’ campaign, reveals that a company’s reputation is one of the top three most important factors for Britons when it comes to seeking new employment and deciding upon an organisation to work for.

work shame

While the salary offered and the level of stimulating work available rated the highest in importance when choosing an employer, a company’s reputation is the third most important factor among all Brits (33%). A company’s reputation is seen as more important than flexibility of work, benefits offered, culture, and the organisation’s location.

The study has found the importance of reputation increases with the age of employees, with 40% of 55-64 year olds and 36% of 45-54 year olds citing it as important, versus 26% of 18-44 year olds.

Table one: the top five most important criteria for Britons deciding upon an organisation to work for when looking for new employment.

1. Salary offered 65%
2. Type of work that is interesting 41%
3. Organisation’s reputation as an employer and in general 33%
4. Organisation’s location 32%
5. Flexibility of work 27%

Work shame

British workers are revealed to be sensitive to the repercussions of a negative company or industry reputation, with one in five (20%) admitting that they are or have been embarrassed to tell friends and family about the industry or organisation they work in, or have worked in. This workplace shame is more prevalent amongst men, almost quarter of whom (22%) say that they have been ashamed of the industry or organisation for which they work compared to one in five women (18%). The younger generation has also felt a greater share of workplace shame, with over a quarter (28%) of 25-34 year olds admitting to being embarrassed of the industry they work in, or have worked in.

Of those who feel ashamed of the organisation they work for, or have worked in, the most common reason is the substandard treatment of employees (35%), while one-in-five do so because they believe that it is not trustworthy (22%). Another area of concern is if an industry has a reputation for ‘ripping off’ its customers through fees and charges – men seem to be more attuned to this (17% vs 8% of women). The impact of negative media coverage has a big influence too, cited by almost a fifth of these Brits (19%), while the pressure of political or legal scrutiny is felt by a further 14%.

While the technology sector is the industry which has the best reputation overall (67% of all Brits said it had a good reputation) 33% of those that are employed by the sector say they are embarrassed to work in it (one of the highest recorded). A greater number of public sector workers (24%) vs private sector (20%) and the third sector (5%) have been embarrassed among friends and family.

Table two: the top reasons for why 20% of Brits have been embarrassed about telling friends or family about the organisation they work for, or have worked for.

1. It treats its employees badly 35%
2. Bad personal experience 25%
3. The reputation of prominent people in the organisation 23%
4. It’s not trustworthy 22%
5. It has bad customer service 19%
It’s products and service are low quality
Negative media coverage

An earlier study* for the PRCA revealed that 92% of communications professionals found that the ability to retain and recruit the best staff was linked to a good company reputation.

Rating employers’ reputation

Almost two-thirds of working Brits (64%) measure the reputation of their current employer as good, of which 23% state it is as being ‘very good’. Scottish employees were most positive with almost three in four (73%) rating their employer’s reputation as good. On the flip-side, across the UK, a sizeable one in ten (10%) class the reputation of the organisation they work for as poor, while a further 26% see it as neither good nor poor.

A greater number of public sector workers (14%) negatively rate the reputation of their current employer, compared to the private sector (8%) and the third sector (3%). Only half (52%) of those working in Government said they believe their employer has a good reputation.

When asked to name companies that Brits associated with having a good reputation, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer came out top, followed by Virgin, Apple, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose.

Reputational responsibility

When it comes to ensuring and maintaining the reputation of an organisation, nearly two-thirds of Brits (63%) agree that it is the responsibility of all staff, although for over a quarter believe the onus is on the leader of the organisation (27%) or senior management (25%). One in seven (16%) think responsibility should lie with the marketing, communications or public relations teams, and 11% believe it lies with the Human Resources team.

Tony Langham, Chairman of the PRCA’s PR Council, commented on the study: “The reputation of an industry or an organisation is integral to those who work within it, and to some people it is crucial to who they are prepared to work for. Organisations with strong reputations are more able to recruit and retain the best talent and to get the most from their workforce. A positive workforce can also act as a powerful army of ambassadors for a company and individually help maintain and protect reputation.”

James Endersby, managing director of Opinium Research adds: “It is clear from our research that reputation is a major concern for the UK’s workforce. Those companies able to succeed in maintaining and projecting a good reputation will be rewarded with a loyal and engaged workforce.”

This study is the latest step in the PRCA’s ongoing campaign to aide understanding and stimulate discussion and debate around the contribution reputation makes to all organisations.


Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 2,003 GB adults aged 18+ from 20th to 23rd February 2015. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.

*The study was carried out by YouGov in August 2014. They interviewed 114 communications professionals from in-house, agency and freelance positions across a range of sectors.

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