PwC Purpose Survey reveals public expectations of business on skills, race, climate, and other social issues

  • 70% of people want business action on climate change and 65% want action on racism
  • 82% say learning new skills would give them a greater sense of purpose at work
  • 35% of employees have felt more motivated during the pandemic, while only 21% felt less motivated 
  • Almost a quarter (24%) don’t feel their employer makes an important contribution to society and a further 22% don’t know 

Developing employees’ skills, protecting the climate, and tackling racism are among the actions that individuals want from organisations, according to the PwC Purpose Survey. The research also found that almost a quarter (24%) of the respondents don’t feel that their current employer makes an important contribution to wider society and a further 22% don’t know whether it does or not. 

Among the 35% of people who have experienced increased motivation at work during the pandemic (37% of men and 33% of women), 45% attribute this to understanding how their work contributes to organisational purpose and 38% to the opportunity to make a general contribution to society. For the 21% feeling less motivated (24% of women, 18% of men), the biggest cause is being less able to concentrate - true for 49%. 

Amid calls to rebuild the UK as a more equal, inclusive society, 57% of the survey’s 2,000 respondents say that making society fairer should be part of all organisations’ purpose - just 11% disagree, while 32% neither agree nor disagree. Some 54% of respondents believe that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should take action on this. This figure rises to 61% for big business and 70% for government. 

Emma Cox, head of purpose at PwC, said:

“The pandemic has amplified many aspects of social inequality, and challenged businesses to demonstrate purpose beyond profit. Some businesses and industries are still in survival mode but a clearly defined purpose can transform decision-making, employee engagement, performance, and evolution in any organisation. 

“The Government’s summer statement and its invitation for business to contribute ideas set a clear expectation that the private sector will contribute to resolving challenges and rebuilding the economy. Our research makes clear the public’s expectation that recovery plans must create quality employment and build a greener, more inclusive and resilient UK economy.”

While expectations of business and government are high, optimism that these parties will deliver is comparatively lower. The highest level of faith is invested in SMEs, with around a third (35%) believing that these organisations will act. This falls to 31% for big business and 30% for government. 

There is also a cost to not delivering on promises - the majority (58%) of UK adults would find it demotivating to work for an organisation that talks about wider societal purpose but doesn’t take action. Perhaps testament to the challenging circumstances currently affecting the early years of their careers, this is less true for younger people than their older counterparts - applying to 52% of 18-24 year-olds and 55% of 25-34 year-olds, compared with two-thirds (66%) of those in the 55-64 age group and 63% of those aged 65 and over.

Racism, skills, and climate

In terms of sentiment on specific issues, the survey found that almost two thirds (65%) of respondents agree that businesses should take action to address racism and racial inequality. 

Action on skills is another area where employers can demonstrate purpose beyond profit, particularly as the pandemic has made the skills crisis even more acute. In fact, one in five (20%) respondents rank helping employees to learn a new skill in the top three most valuable actions businesses can take in a crisis - well ahead of making financial donations, such as charitable funding. 

Over two-thirds (68%) said that employers not helping employees learn the new skills they need to keep their jobs is irresponsible - this is more true for women (72%) than for men (64%).  The survey also identified that one in twenty (6%) people are already contemplating a career change because of the pandemic - increasing to almost one in ten for those aged 18-34 (9%). 

Emma Cox, head of purpose at PwC, commented:

“There is evidence that Covid-19 job losses have disproportionately impacted women and young people - some of these jobs will be automated or not come back in the short term due to economic contraction and the ways industries reshape. Skills programmes should address inequity in access to the jobs of the future, taking into account disparities across gender, sexuality, race, age, income, and place. Skills development can also help keep employees engaged - over four in five of the people we surveyed said learning new skills would give them a greater sense of purpose at work.”

Climate change is another significant concern, with a strong preference for action over funding alone. Over half (54%) of respondents agree with the statement ‘businesses should help protect our climate with money’, with 60% of the youngest group (18-24s) stating this. Some 70% overall agree that ‘businesses should help protect our climate with action.’ 

In the event of corporate mistakes, public accountability beats a donation as atonement - 65% want plans for improvement to be made public, while 45% think organisations should donate money to a relevant cause. 

When asked specifically about actions taken by businesses to respond to the coronavirus crisis, respondents identified protecting jobs, supporting key workers, and providing specific customer support as the most valuable actions businesses can take. 


Notes for editors.

About the PwC Purpose Survey 

  1. 2,000 UK adults were surveyed between 30th July 2020 and 7 August 2020 by PwC Research, the firm's global centre of excellence for market and social research. The data was collected as part of the PwC Research QuantiBus, a weekly survey, which provides insight into the attitudes, behaviours and opinions of consumers and brings human insight to drive better business decisions. 

  2. There is no accompanying report. More information about PwC’s own Purpose is available here and information about our purpose-led work with clients can be found here

About PwC

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