Employers care more about customers than employees: Worker survey

Employer-employee relationships are strong, but customers seem to have more influence

TORONTO, December 15, 2022 – While most Canadian workers have strong relationships with their employers, they believe their organizations care more about relationships with customers than employees, according to a new study.

81 percent of working Canadians surveyed agree their organization “shows concern for its clientele.” By contrast, a much lower 71 percent agree their employer “takes care of the people who work here,” and only 63 percent agree their employer “is concerned about people like me.”

The results are from the Argyle Public Relationships Index™ , an annual survey of working North Americans by Leger and Argyle, a leading North American engagement, communication and reputation advisory firm.

On most dimensions of relationship health, workers believe their organizations are doing better with customers than employees, most notably in showing greater commitment to meet customer expectations (+13%), and allowing them to influence the decisions or direction of the organization (+16%). Interestingly, the two areas where organizations are seen to do equally well with customers and employees are in earning trust and satisfaction.

Respondents working in small- or mid-sized organizations (less than 500 employees) were significantly more likely to agree their organization earns public satisfaction than their counterparts at large organizations – a gap of 15 percentage points (80 percent versus 65 percent).

“In a slowing economy and a tight labour market, leaders aspire to excellent relationships with both customers and employees – but workers believe their employers are doing much better with their clientele than their own people,” says Argyle CEO Daniel Tisch. “Wise employers are investing more time in employee engagement, showing more concern for workers’ well-being, and giving employees more influence over their decisions.”

ESG ratings from employees: Slow progress – but a greater sense of purpose

Most employees give their employers positive marks for their performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, but the numbers are essentially unchanged from a year ago, suggesting progress has been slow:

  • 71 percent of respondents agree that their organization “has strong, effective and ethical management and governance practices,” up one percent from the Argyle/Leger 2021 survey.
  • 71 percent agree their organization “performs strongly on social issues, such as health and safety or equity for women and people of colour,” down two percent.
  • 58 percent agree their organization “performs strongly on environmental issues, such as reducing its negative impact on the climate,” up two percent.

In one encouraging finding for employers, 77 percent of respondents believe their organization lives up to its stated purpose, up six percent from a year ago.

The State of Social

The study also found that a clear majority of employees say that their employers are performing well on every dimension of social performance measured, including demonstrating a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (74 percent); protecting human rights (68 percent); creating training and development programs (65 percent); supporting employee physical and mental health (63 percent each); and supporting rights and opportunities for Indigenous peoples (59 percent).

Still, there is a persistent gap between those performance scores and the level of importance employees place on social issues. The largest importance-performance gaps were evident in employee assessments of physical and mental health support, followed by training. More details on the ‘State of Social’ portion of the survey, conducted in partnership with ESG Global Advisors, are available here.


About the study

The Argyle Public Relationships Index™ is based on a survey of 1,002 working Canadians and 1,000 employed Americans, completed between August 16-25, 2022, using Leger’s online panel. Leger’s online panel has approximately 400,000 members and a retention rate of 90%. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample. For comparative purposes, though, a probability sample of 1,000 respondents would have a margin of error of +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Public relations research suggests there are six dimensions of relationships between organizations and their internal or external publics: trust; satisfaction; perceived commitment to meet expectations; caring for those with whom you work or do business (“exchange relationship”); concern for people like me (“communal relationship”); and people’s perception of their ability to influence the organization. Argyle and Leger express appreciation to Dr Terry Flynn and Dr Alex Sevigny of McMaster University for their counsel in the development of the model for this ongoing research.

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