Are values shifting?

Steinbeis study in partnership with JCI Germany

More than 1,000 German JCI-members took part in an online survey in 2010, as part of a study titled “Are Values Shifting?”. The study was carried out by the Steinbeis Foundation in partnership with Junior Chamber International (JCI) Germany. Two of the key findings: the self-employed seem to be more value-oriented than company employees. More than anything, employees expect companies to treat them fairly – fairness is a core value for raising staff’s ability to identify with the company they work for.

The academic supervisors of the study were Prof. Dr. Konrad Zerr and Prof. Dr. Stephan Fischer, both consultants at the Steinbeis Consulting Center Marketing – Intelligence – Consulting (MIC) and professors at Pforzheim University. The survey aimed to assess how value-oriented self-employed people and employees are, what self-employed people expect from their self-employment, and what employees expect of their employer. Participants scored answers by agreeing or disagreeing with a series of statements. The answers were used to assess respondents’ attitudes towards values such as sustainability, fairness and customer focus.

1) Morals or commerce: how value-oriented are the self-employed and employees?
Asked for their personal opinion, only a minority of the young entrepreneurs in the survey agreed that business success is ultimately more important than morals or ethics. Twice as many employees (14%) as self-employed people (7%) agreed with this sentiment. This tendency for employees to be slightly less value-oriented than the self-employed was also reflected in their responses to other statements. Employees consider companies’ social and ecological responsibilities and customer focus to be somewhat less significant. The sole exception to this trend was the issue of fairness towards other members of staff. While almost all respondents agreed with the notion (95% self-employed), agreement was only marginally higher among employees (96%). Judging by their statements, around 55% of all self-employed people could be described as strongly valueoriented, versus 41% of employees.

2) Expectations: what is important to the self-employed and employees?
Self-employed people and employees have similar expectations at the start of their self-employment or when starting in a new position. Their foremost expectation is to have “opportunities to develop freely” (96% of self-employed people) or “opportunities to develop in their roles and responsibilities” (88% of employees). Financial considerations and salary are not unimportant, but they are not a focus for either group (60% of employees, 46% of self-employed people). A remarkable 57% of self-employed people in the survey initially intended their work to result in “a benefit to society”. For employees, fair (81%) and socially responsible (73%) treatment of employees, a good working atmosphere (79%) and fair conduct towards customers (78%) were the decisive factors. Just under a third of employees (29%) also expected to be given an opportunity to work abroad. In general, the majority of employees (61%) and self-employed people (66%) agreed that their expectations of their new position or self-employment have been wholly or largely met.

3) Aspirations and reality: how do the self-employed assess their own conduct, and how do employees assess the conduct of company management?
Self-employed people judge their own conduct as more sustainable, more customerfocused and fairer than employees view the conduct of their company’s management. One has to wonder what the causes of this discrepancy are. Are the self-employed unable to see themselves from a realistic perspective, or is the value orientation of self-employed entrepreneurs merely not recognized by their employees? Another explanation could be that many employees work in large corporations, whereas the selfemployed respondents predominantly run SMEs. But the general tendency would seem to be that the larger the company, the less value-oriented its management is perceived to be.

The greatest discrepancies are seen with respect to fairness. While over two-thirds of self-employed people consider their own leadership style to be empathetic, considerate and participatory, less than half of the employees in the survey said the same about company management.
The situation is similar with respect to the sustainability of management conduct: 74 % of self-employed people described their own behavior as characterized by societal and social responsibility, but only 51% of employees said this of their company management. Only in two areas of sustainability – equality and patronage (i.e. supporting social aims) – did employees rate the conduct of company management more highly than selfemployed people rated their own conduct. Employees and self-employed people also had diverging opinions on customer focus. Almost all of the self-employed respondents (94%) described their conduct as customerfocused, but less than 75% of employees said the same of company management.

4) Motivating factors: which values boost commitment?
In this study, the definition of commitment encompasses the following aspects: how strongly do employees identify with their company, to what extent do they believe in their company’s values, and to what extent do they feel a sense of belonging to the company, or even share pride in it? The results show that the majority of the employees are highly committed to their company. A more detailed analysis reveals the key factors that boost commitment: the more fairly employees are treated, the greater their commitment. Self-employed people are highly conscious of their societal, social and environmental responsibilities. By contrast, employees do not always perceive the actions of their company managers to be value-oriented to the same degree. For employees, being value-oriented means treating employees and customers fairly; empathy, participation, consideration and welfare are the key parameters which boost employee commitment. These are followed by sustainability and customer focus as secondary factors. Employees and the self-employed have similar expectations of their working environment: professional freedom and the opportunity to develop are more important to them than salary and outstanding business success.

The Steinbeis study has been published in Steinbeis-Edition (ISBN 978-3-941417-37-3).

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