Companies ignoring employee demands will falter


Dive Brief:

  • Companies that fail to adjust to labor shortages and satisfy the growing demands of workers will likely falter as they lose the battle for talent, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said in a letter to CEOs.
  • “No relationship has been changed more by the pandemic than the one between employers and employees,” Fink said, noting that “employees across the globe are looking for more from their employer — including more flexibility and more meaningful work.” Fink, while leading the world’s largest asset manager, has sought for a decade to influence corporate behavior through an annual CEO letter.
  • “As companies rebuild themselves coming out of the pandemic, CEOs face a profoundly different paradigm than we used to,” Fink said. Companies can no longer overlook employee mental health, insist that staff work in the office five days per week and provide modest wage increases for low- and middle-income workers.

Dive Insight:

CFOs considering an increase in prices and employee wages need to balance the imperative to sustain profits with pressures from the worst inflation and labor shortages in decades.

The persistence of COVID-19 has slowed the labor market’s post-lockdown recovery and churned up company payrolls. Fink noted that in November the quits rate, or the number of workers who left their jobs as a percent of total employment, rose to 3%, a record high first breached in September.

CFOs aiming to attract and retain employees with wage increases must take into account a 7% jump in the consumer price index (CPI) during the 12 months through December — the biggest surge since 1982.

“Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism,” Fink said. Describing “a new world of work,” he said, “companies not adjusting to this new reality and responding to workers do so at their own peril.

“Turnover drives up expenses, drives down productivity and erodes culture and corporate memory,” Fink said. BlackRock manages more than $10 trillion in assets for institutional and retail investors.

In order to satisfy workers, CEOs must look beyond pay and workplace flexibility, Fink said. The coronavirus “shone a light on issues like racial equality, childcare and mental health — and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work.”

Fink also reiterated his support for “stakeholder capitalism,” saying that “a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders.”

“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke,’” he said. “It is capitalism driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers and communities your company relies on to prosper.”

Most stakeholders expect companies to help “decarbonize” the global economy, Fink said, predicting that so-called sustainable investment will surge well beyond the $4 trillion total.

BlackRock has asked companies to set short-, medium- and long-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions which “are critical to the long-term economic interests of your shareholders,” he said.

At the same time, “divesting from entire sectors — or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets — will not get the world to net zero,” Fink said, adding that “BlackRock does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy.”

Fink’s annual letter drew fire from environmentalists.

The letter “is just another rehashing of the same vague rhetoric, without any meaningful new commitment to actually help lead the necessary transition to a climate-safe future,” Ben Cushing, the Sierra Club’s fossil-free finance campaign manager, said in a statement.

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