Evil corporations. It's a pop culture trope we're all familiar with. From Amazon's tax avoidance to Facebook's vise-like grip on our personal data to the environmental impact of corporate polluters, people love to hate the behemoths of big business.
But corporations do a lot of good too. Biotech firms stepped up to the plate and developed pandemic-busting vaccines in record time. And social responsibility is increasingly becoming an essential part of the corporate identity.
So what's the truth? Good, evil, or a bit of both?
We wanted to get to the bottom of how people perceive corporations and what they think of working for them in 2022. To do so, we surveyed 1000+ American employees and gathered thousands of data points. Here are a few to whet your curiosity:
- 78% agreed that corporations guarantees stable employment, but—
- 62% thought that working in a corporation is boring and repetitive.
- 79% agreed that working for a corporation is prestigious, but—
- 67% thought that corporations ignore social responsibility and the needs of their employees to make profit for shareholders.
So it's not as black and white as popular culture would have it.
Keep reading to discover what else we uncovered when it comes to painting the big picture on big business.
Who trusts corporations the most?
Everyone has an opinion on corporations. But actually working inside the belly of the beast gives a greater understanding of their inner workings.
Turns out, our respondents had a lot of firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be part of the machinery that makes corporations tick.
A whopping 90% of the respondents overall had worked in a corporate environment at some point.
And their experience must have been positive overall as most had a sense of trust and stability regarding corporations.
As can be seen from the infographic, education, political party affiliation, and age all had an impact on views of corporations.
But let's dig a little deeper:
- 78% agreed that working in a corporation guarantees stable employment.
- 75% agreed that working in a corporation guarantees financial stability.
- 79% agreed that working for a corporation can be prestigious.
- 65% agreed that they had a lot of confidence in big business and corporations.
So overall, our respondents saw working for corporations as a sign of stability and prestige, and had a lot of confidence in them.
Why is that?
It all comes down to a concept called perceived external prestige (PEP). In plain English, PEP refers to the way members of an organization assess the reputation of that organization.
Employees tend to see themselves as being members of an important group. This boosts their feelings of self-respect and gives them a greater sense of social value and status. End result, positive perceptions of being a corporate worker.
This makes sense too. Corporations tend to have the benefits of size and high profits. The security provided by big business is hard to argue with.
But some were not as impressed.
No college degree = less trust in corporations
What stood out in our findings was that those people without a college degree were not as impressed by corporations.
Let's compare the data. We asked our respondents how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement:
"I have a lot of confidence in big businesses and corporations."
- No college degree—51% disagreed
- Master's degree or doctorate—17% disagreed
- Associate or bachelor's degree—16% disagreed
Three times as many non-degree holders lacked confidence in big businesses and corporations. And the trend didn't stop there.
Those who didn't have a college degree were much less positive about corporate work than those with a degree. For example:
31% of non-degree holders disagreed with the proposition that working in a corporation guarantees stable employment. But when it came to bachelor's or associate degree holders, that number dropped to 13%.
What could be causing this lack of trust among those who hadn't received a degree?
A prime contender is the phenomenon of degree inflation. It refers to the fact that many jobs that historically didn't require a college degree now do. And this excludes non-degree holders from the types of jobs they were able to get in the past.
So workers without degrees get pushed into more precarious and less lucrative work.
Remember this point from earlier? 90% of those who took our survey had worked in a corporation at some point.
Let's break that down a little—
- 79% of those without a college degree had corporate experience, compared to 93% of those with an associate's or bachelor's and 88% of those with master's or doctorate.
There's a clear difference based on educational attainment.
So it certainly stands to reason that folks who are being turned away from the corporate jobs that were once open to them wouldn't feel so warm and fuzzy.
Another strong factor for confidence in big business was political affiliation.
Republicans trusted big business more
Those who identified themselves as Republicans felt greater confidence in corporations.
33% of Republicans strongly agreed with the statement:
"I have a lot of confidence in big businesses and corporations."
That's compared with 20% of both Democrats and independents who strongly agreed.
You can say that there's been an ongoing love affair between the Republican Party and the country's corporate jet set. And this is backed up by other studies too.
In a nutshell:
It's clear that although some groups had less trust in corporations, most in the study felt that a corporation represented stability and a regular paycheck.
But, would they sell their souls to get that regular, and fat paycheck?
Sacrificing ethics for greater greenbacks
We often point the finger at the unethical behavior of corporations. But, we should also remember that it's people who run those corporations and millions happily work for them.
Let's take the site where you can buy everything.
Here are some facts about this global sales empire:
- Apart from Amazon, founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, his own aerospace company, Blue Origin, and a slew of other businesses.
- Amazon's revenue in 2020 was $386 billion, up from $89 billion in 2014.
- Also in 2020, Amazon had an effective federal income tax rate of just 9.4%, less than half the statutory corporate tax of 21%.
- And again in 2020. Amazon had a sales income of €44bn in Europe in 2020 but paid no corporation tax.
That last point seems a little absurd, we know. But Amazon's European arm is based in the country of Luxembourg, a well-known tax haven.
Which brings us to the question posed to our survey takers:
Would you accept an attractive job offer, with a high salary, in a corporation that uses tax havens to reduce its tax liability?
76% said yes overall.
Break that down by gender though and a clear gap opened up. 82% of men said they would, compared with 70% of women.
There are a couple of possible reasons for that. On one side of the equation, many men still feel pressure to be the household breadwinner, regardless of morals. But on the other side, there's also evidence to suggest that women are more likely to react negatively to ethical compromises.
We found the same pattern in other ethical compromises too. When we asked respondents if they'd accept a job offer with a high salary in a corporation that badly pollutes the environment, 59% of men said yes, vs. 48% of women.
And again, education levels were a significant factor.
People without a college degree were less likely to take a job from a tax-avoiding company. 63% said yes, vs. 77% of those who had a master's or higher degree.
The difference was even higher when we asked about an offer from a corporation that significantly pollutes the environment. Only 28% of those without a college degree said yes, compared to 58% of those with a master's degree or higher.
Again, a good indicator of the lower level of confidence that non-degree holders have for big business. Not to mention an interesting observation on the influence of higher education on morality.
The bottom line:
Overall, the majority of respondents were willing to sacrifice morals for a fatter paycheck.
But do Americans choose to work for corporations just for the money? Or is it also because corporations inspire a sense of patriotism?
Corporations illicit a sense of national strength
"Starting in the 1790s, corporations became key institutions of the American economy, contributing greatly to its remarkable growth."
—The American Corporation
Arguably, much of America's success can be attributed to the revenue and employment generated by large corporations.
It's no wonder that many feel that they're a symbol of national strength and pride.
According to the United States Council for International Business:
The majority of our respondents agreed that corporations can be a source of national strength. But again, some fascinating demographic differences emerged.
Those with no college degrees were the outliers.
59% of non-degree holders agreed that corporations can be a source of national strength. But compare that with 83% of respondent's with a master's degree or higher.
Yet more evidence that people without a college degree see the dark side of corporations more.
Two sides of the corporate coin
There are definitely two sides to the coin when it comes to corporations.
On one side, there are long hours. As Robert Frost masterfully observed:
And on the other hand, there are tons of resources available.
"The corporate world has the resources to improve the world. It's where people live and work."
—Douglas Conant, former President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company
Let's see what our respondents thought were the biggest upsides and downsides of working in a corporation.
As can be seen in the infographic, the top-rated benefit overall was opportunities for professional development. 61% chose it as one of their favored benefits. And please note, for this question, candidates could choose any option that applied from a list of advantages and disadvantages.
But the opinion on the top benefit changed when age was taken into account.
The Gen X and older crowd selected decent employee benefits as the top advantage, vs. Millennials who picked a higher salary than in smaller companies.
This makes sense. Every generation has different needs from their organization. Global insurance broker Hub International prepared a report on employee engagement by generation that addressed this well. Here's what it said.
- Engaging Millennial employees includes nurturing meaningful personal relationships with them, offering them varied, engaging tasks, and offering them immediate feedback and rewards.
- Engaging Gen Xers includes providing competitive salaries, bonuses, 401(k) plans with matching benefits and workplace flexibility.
- Engaging Baby Boomers includes salary, job security and health benefits.
It's clear that those who are 41 and over are more concerned about having good employee benefits. For example, aging means health issues crop up more and more. So it's natural that the older group would be more inclined to want good health benefits.
Regarding the biggest cons to corporate life, overall, half chose long working hours. Split by gender though, men rated this as number one, but women chose excessive work-related stress as the top disadvantage to working for a corporation.
Strict rules came in third place overall.
Arguably, strict rules stifle creativity. Most successful corporations are, quite rightly, very concerned with adhering to schedules and tight production turnarounds. They want you to hit targets more than daydream and write haiku.
Speaking of haiku.
See the next section
It will all make sense
Corporations have evolved a bit since the days of "Hawaiian-shirt Fridays" and soul-sucking cubicle life as portrayed in the iconic 1999 film, "Office Space."
Fans will remember the main character Peter's struggles with the monotony of his nine-to-five grind, and his hapless coworkers' attempts to help with vacuous comments like:
Uh-oh, sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mondays!
And as much as an open space floor plan, a plethora of plants, and a foosball table counteract the corporate culture of old, popular wisdom says that corporations squelch the creative spirit.
Did those in the survey agree?
Yes. The majority also agreed that corporations are boring and repetitive.
Why is that?
McKinsey & Company's report, Creative destruction, describes this phenomenon well:
Corporations don't have the time to delve into touchy-feely creativity. They want results, fast!
So which group disagreed with the idea that working in a corporation kills creativity and innovation the most?
Those who worked in businesses with over 500 employees. Most likely a corporation. 32% of them disagreed overall.
But, seeing as these folks have the current intel about the corporate experience, maybe corporations are doing better these days in encouraging innovation.
Google has been a trendsetter for years in this regard. Their famed "20% rule" encourages employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects that won't necessarily show immediate dividends but might create future opportunities.
Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote about it way back in 2004, before the company had its IPO.
Perhaps more businesses are taking cues from one of the world's most successful corporations.
But there's no avoiding the fact that they often thrive by taking over small mom-and-pop businesses.
So, how did the survey participants feel about the little guys?
Big business vs. small business
Our respondents felt more confidence in small businesses over big businesses. And this is backed up by other data too.
A 2021 study by think tank More in Common revealed that:
- 11% said American corporations are honest, but—
- 50% found local businesses to be honest.
- 49% said American corporations are always or mostly dishonest, but—
- 8% said local businesses were always or mostly dishonest.
As for our own respondents. 78% agreed that they have a lot of confidence in small businesses, but that dropped off to 64% regarding big businesses and corporations.
And again, our respondents without college degrees were most hostile. Just 31% had a lot of confidence in corporations.
That made the responses to this question all the more striking. We asked:
Overall, would you prefer to work for a corporation or a small business?
The majority, 68%, picked working for a corporation.
Who didn't choose working for a corporation?
- 68% of those who hadn't graduated from college chose small business as their preferred place of employment over a corporation.
- 59% of self-employed individuals preferred working for a small business.
But overall, it seems the positives of corporate life outweigh the negatives for the majority of people.
Time to wrap up.
There was a lot to unpack in this study, and the group that stood out throughout were those who hadn't finished college. They had the least confidence in corporations and clearly preferred the more intimate small business environment.
Overall, confidence in big business was high. Most of the American workers in the study felt that corporations were a source of national pride and would prefer to work in one over a small business.
Aside from the cons that were identified by the survey participants, such as suppressing creativity and long hours, overall they felt corporations inspired confidence and gave them the thumbs up.
So it seems that the evil corporation stereotype may not be so true after all.
We surveyed 1,041 respondents online via a bespoke polling tool on their opinions on corporations and big business. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this can be due to rounding, or due to being part of a larger statistic, or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
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