Last November, several inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security unexpectedly and simultaneously raided the offices of the Big Four in Madrid to review the control of working hours to which employees must be subject.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s raid on Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG has reopened the debate on the excessive working hours of these firms, which should be analysed from a reputational point of view. To what extent does this affect the reputation of these consultancy firms? How should they act?
The experts consulted consider that there is no reliable evidence that this operation has a negative impact on the reputation of the Big Four.
The Global Director of Reputation, Sustainability and CSR at Atrevia, Manuel Sevillano, recalls that according to the Merco ranking, the reputation of the Big Four “has been fairly stable over the last five years and is in the 65-75th position”, which means, in his opinion, that “it is not bad to begin with, although it is certainly a little far from the sectors with the best reputation”.
Sevillano admits that “it is too soon to be able to say whether or not the labour inspection has affected their reputation”, although he does point out that reputation “affects all stakeholders and not just the workers” and their management “should not be subject to the ups and downs of current affairs, which does not mean that they do not have to do anything”.
“They need to communicate more”
IESE Business School senior lecturer Yago de la Cierva also believes as a starting point that “the Big Four have a good reputation in the business sector, although less strong than years ago”. He warns that “when you are under the regulator’s scrutiny, you have to be completely exemplary in complying with current legislation”.
The academic suspects that macro-inspection affects “little in terms of reputation”, although he recommends that these professional services consultancies “speak more publicly, offer interventions before the media and more transparency of information. They cannot keep quiet, they have to speak out”.
Specialists stress the importance of managing relations with all stakeholders appropriately and constantly, and in this case especially with employees, who are the companies’ most important ambassadors.
Employees are a stakeholder group that carries considerable weight in the corporate reputation of the Big Four. However, according to the experts, there are significant conceptual contrasts between generations of employees.
Ricardo Gómez Díez, a reputation expert and professor at the Carlos III University, says that “the idea that today’s younger generations have about work is very different from what it was back then. The Big Four have gone from being admired as the great school of top management to being seen as companies that demand dedication today with the promise of a tomorrow that seems very distant for today’s twenty-somethings who are not willing to suffer so much to achieve the sky in a future in which they don’t even know where they will be”.
The macro-inspection of these companies approved by the government once again calls into question the labour policy of the Big Four, which De la Cierva describes as “a few years of purgatory to get to heaven”. However, he is also confident that “the arrival of millennials and generation Z, with their characteristics so different from the philosophy that made the consultancy firms great, will force them to change. Hopefully they will take the initiative.
An employer branding plan for future talent
The Global Director of Reputation, Sustainability and CSR at Atrevia considers in this regard that “the main strength of the Big Four is the current employer brand and the weakness is the future employer brand, with all due caution because the analytics of each of their companies would have to be analysed”.
He recommends “putting in place a structural and strategic programme to improve the recognition of future talent and, in addition, I would link it to sustainability”. “The reputation of the Big Four in the variable of attracting and retaining talent has more recognition among currently active workers than among future talent, understood as university students about to join the labour market,” he concludes.
In the opinion of the experts, although consultancy firms may be able to emerge unscathed today from a reputational point of view, it is not guaranteed that this effect will persist with the entry of a new generation of employees, a relevant interest group with a high capacity to erode the reputation of companies.