MBAs Don't Really Care About Social Responsibility, Study Shows

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 4:09 PM EST

Business school students say they care about a company's reputation for corporate and social responsibility, and as being a good place to work. But a new study shows that when asked to actually evaluate hypothetical job offers, they give those same factors hardly any weight at all.

Despite the financial crisis and the hubbub surrounding the MBA Oath, researcher from Melbourne Business School and University of Technology, Sydney, write that, when MBA students evaluate a job offer, "Reputation has only marginal value."

The researchers, Pat Auger of Melbourne Business School, with Timonthy M. Devinney, Grahame R. Dowling, Christine Eckert, and Nidthida Perm-Ajchariyawong of the University of Technology, Sydney, defined a company's reputation in three ways, each divided into three tiers:
  • Social reputation: Named by the Global Reporting Initiative as one of the top 25% of companies globally; not listed by the Initiative but generally respected, or not listed and occasionally known to get some negative press about its social reputation
  • Workplace reputation: Used the same three tiers as above, but used Hewitt's Best Employer's Survey to rank companies
  • Corporate reputation: Used the same three tiers as above, but used the Reputation Institute to rank companies
The researchers first asked 303 MBA students to rank 28 attributes of a hypothetical job offer, including salary, bonus structure, potential for overseas postings, travel requirements, and the company's corporate reputation. They were then asked to list the top five companies they'd like to work for after graduation, and to list the five factors that made those companies appealing.
  • "High ethical standards" was chosen as a factor less than 10% of the time.
  • "Social positioning of the company" was chosen just 1.7% of the time.
Next the students were asked to compare hypothetical job offers.
  • The students were most concerned with salary, opportunity for advancement, and time and travel demands.
  • Corporate reputation and workplace reputation mattered only marginally, and even then only when students were comparing companies with the very best and very worst reputations.
  • Students who said work/life balance was important to them did generally make that a significant factor in their hypothetical job choices.
  • A negative workplace reputation had an impact, but a neutral-to-positive one didn't.
  • Certification (being on an outside authority's list) mattered only in the case of corporate reputation.
  • Those who initially told the researchers they wanted to change the world by making a social contribution were not willing to take a salary hit to do it.
  • Bonus-heavy compensation structures were unpopular.
  • Being asked to move to a small town was extremely unpopular.
  • The older the student, the more importance they placed on a company's reputation.
There were some differences between students, depending on which fields they wanted to work in:
  • Corporate reputation mattered most to those anticipating careers in marketing, general management, and information technology.
  • Workplace reputation mattered most to those who wanted to work in general management.
  • Social reputation only mattered to those working in operations.
How much does a company's reputation actually matter? Would you be willing to be paid less to work at a company with a sterling reputation? Or, would you be willing to put aside corporate ethics for a big paycheck?

Image courtesy of flickr user, country_boy_shane
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her on twitter.com/weisul
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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