COVID-19 Raises Tough Decisions, Shifting Priorities of Corporate America

(BPT) - During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are more willing than business executives to impose short-term economic pain for long-term gain, as trust in the government's ability to make the world a better place has taken a plunge, as has environmental concerns.

The sixth annual Aflac Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, which includes a nationwide selection of 1,280 adult consumers and 200 business executives, reveals how the global pandemic has shaped consumers and business executives' views on how companies should serve the social good. No Aflac employees were included in this survey.

'Major disruptions in society can refocus the priorities of both business executives and consumers, and understanding this is essential for companies that take seriously the role corporate America plays in making the world a better place,' said Catherine Hernandez-Blades, senior vice president and chief environmental, social and governance (ESG) and communications officer at Aflac.

In the hot seat, consumers more likely to approve mass layoffs

As COVID-19 continues to send economic shock waves across businesses, consumers are more understanding of the tough decisions business executives face. The survey reveals that if it came to it, consumers are just as inclined as business executives to lay off some employees in order to maintain health care and other essential benefits for others. They are also more inclined than business executives to reduce salaries for all employees in order to avoid layoffs. Conversely and somewhat counterintuitively, consumers take a stronger position of approving mass layoffs if needed to sustain the business (76%) than do business executives (64%).

Consumers more concerned about health and safety

Yet, while consumers have more of a 'take no prisoners' approach to tough economic decisions, they still have a commitment to maintaining health and safety. Consumers are far more concerned than business executives about ensuring the health and well-being of employees, with 62% of consumers ranking 'employee health and safety' as a top operational priority versus 43% of business executives.

People power: Trust in government declines as personal responsibility rises

More consumers are now putting a greater share of their trust in people than government. Roughly half as many consumers in 2020 (17%) as in 2019 (32%) trust the government most to make the world a better place, while the assumed responsibility of individual citizens increased from 48% to 55%, with boomers more likely than millennials to assume personal responsibility by approximately 50%.

COVID-19 may put 'going green' on the back burner for now?

The pandemic is causing consumer priorities to shift, at least temporarily, when considering the responsibility of large companies to make the world a better place. The 'very important' rank of environmental concerns took a precipitous 9% drop between 2019 and 2020. More specifically, the prioritization of 'protecting the environment' and 'providing basic access to clean water' dropped 9% and 13% respectively. While this is not to say that the 'E' in E-S-G has become less important, it may simply be less urgent to consumers in the face of a global pandemic.

Hope for business: Making the world better

Despite the hard decisions business executives face, taking a stand for social good remains at the forefront. Over five times as many business executives (21%) than consumers (4%) feel large companies are most responsible for making the world a better place.

'We live in a time when the pace of change has never moved so quickly - yet, at the same time, the pace of change will never be slower than it is at this very moment. Companies that keep their finger on the pulse of the communities they serve, including their employee base, will be the ones that succeed in being a good corporate citizen and as we know from the data, companies that do good perform better financially,' Hernandez-Blades said.

To learn more about the shifting views of consumers and business executives during COVID-19, visit

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