Bentley Convenes Business Leaders to Discuss Impact of Business on Society
Do Americans trust businesses to use AI responsibly? When should companies speak out on social and political issues? Should companies consider a four-day workweek?
These were some of the topics discussed by business leaders from some of the state’s top companies during a dinner co-hosted by the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and Bentley University. The conversation focused on this year’s Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Report, which includes the results of survey questions aimed at uncovering whether Americans think business has a positive impact on society.
Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Report
The survey of more than 5,000 participants reveals that the role of business in influencing our society is changing. Americans expect more from companies than just profit. Increasingly, they expect businesses to treat their employees fairly, have a positive impact on the world that goes beyond just selling a product or service, and use technology in a sustainable, responsible way.
The survey found that Americans are positive about the impact of business overall, with 63% saying businesses have an extremely or somewhat positive impact on people’s lives, up from 55% in 2022. But the research also suggests Americans think businesses have untapped potential to act as a force for good - 88% believe businesses have a “great deal” or “some” power to positively impact people’s lives; however, only 58% say they are very or somewhat effective.
Executives from Citizens Bank, Comcast, Deloitte, Eastern Bank, Liberty Mutual, PNC Bank, Raytheon, Reinventure Capital, Rockland Trust, State Street Foundation and Verizon focused their discussion on keys areas of the survey including:
THE IMPACT OF ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE
The executives agreed that artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the world of work and transforming how companies do business. The Bentley-Gallup survey reveals there is mistrust among Americans when it comes to AI, with most Americans - 79 percent - reporting that they trust businesses “not much” or “not at all” to adopt AI responsibly. Those trust levels are consistently low among all subgroups of the U.S. adult population; that includes gender, race, age, education level and political party affiliation.
The lack of trust could stem from the fact that 75 percent of Americans believe AI will decrease the number of jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years. This concern is especially high for people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree and those who are 45 or older. The future of the American workforce - 18- to 29-year-olds - are the least concerned about the projected effects of AI on the job market.
The conversation acknowledged the opportunity for businesses to build trust with their employees and consumers about AI, including the need for dialogue about the ethical issues surrounding its use.
DECIDING WHEN TO SPEAK OUT ON POLITICAL/SOCIAL ISSUES
Businesses have become increasingly vocal on issues facing the country and world. Yet this year’s Bentley-Gallup Business in Society survey reveals that fewer Americans want companies speaking out on current events. Less than half (41%) of Americans say businesses should take public stances, a decline of 7 percentage points from 2022. Americans are most supportive of businesses speaking out on climate change (55%) and mental health (52%), and least supportive of businesses taking stances on religion (15%), political candidates (19%) and abortion (26%).
Young Americans (18-29) are much more likely to want businesses to take a public stance on current events (53%) than those aged 45 and over (35%). The roundtable participants discussed which factors they consider when deciding whether to comment on social and political issues, including their company’s culture and values.
SUPPORTING EMPLOYEE WELLNESS
American workers are optimistic that employer-sponsored wellness initiatives can enhance their wellbeing, according to the Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Report. When asked to rate the potential impact of six wellness initiatives on wellbeing, the top three positively rated were employers offering a four-day work week option (77%), providing “mental health days” (74%) and limiting the amount of work employees are expected to perform outside work hours (73%). The executives discussed the implications for leadership and HR when considering which wellness initiatives would benefit their employees.