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An Obligation to Act: the New Social Contract of Business

March 09, 2020

Atlassian research reveals the 'tipping point' for business activism

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- New research commissioned by Atlassian Corporation Plc (NASDAQ:TEAM) has revealed American employees want businesses to play a stronger leadership role on key social issues, such as healthcare, the environment, and cost of living.

The study, prepared by PwC Australia, calls time on the once-favored business strategy of avoiding action on social and political issues. It found businesses are more likely to lose employees if they don't take a stand on important issues.

The Return on Action Report surveyed more than 2,500 US employees and provides an up-to-date snapshot of the growing expectations of businesses to lead on the issues important to society. The report marks the first cross-generational research on the new expectations and accountability of business and its moral obligations.

Key employee findings include:

  • 60 percent agree businesses should be just as concerned with their societal impact as they are with their financial performance
  • 73 percent agree businesses need to take full responsibility for their environmental impact
  • 67 percent agree that businesses should invest in and use renewable energy, instead of fossil fuels like oil and coal
  • 62 percent agree business leaders should hold politicians to account on major issues
  • Only 42 percent are satisfied with the level of action their own employer takes on key societal issues such as climate change, data privacy, unemployment and the cost of living

Change from within

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian said businesses have reached a tipping point and sitting on the fence is no longer good enough.

“As business leaders, we have an awesome responsibility. Employees want us to ensure we are making the planet better, not worse. Faced with government inaction on some of our biggest problems, it’s the business community that can step up and drive meaningful change.”

“Many companies focus only on the Return on Investment and delivering profit for shareholders. But times have changed. As business leaders we should listen to the views of the workforce; focusing on our impact on society delivers a return of its own. It’s now on us to respond,” said Scott Farquhar, co-CEO and co-founder of Atlassian.

Clear zones of focus

Across all demographics, economic and environmental issues emerged as the top two areas for businesses to effect change. Economically, businesses are expected to help support and take more accountability with their local communities, through appropriate wages and equal employment opportunities, to play a much larger role in addressing the current wage gap. This aligns with the growing movement from The Business Roundtable. The US collective has amassed more than 180 signatures in February 2020 from leaders of some of the biggest global operations to share in a fundamental commitment to all of a business’s stakeholders. The pledge outlines five commitments including investing in employees and supporting the communities in which a business operates.

The Return on Action Report also showed widespread agreement (73 percent) that businesses need to take full responsibility for their environmental impact. While perceptions of businesses were that of being major waste and pollution contributors, they were also seen as far more agile and financially capable of enacting change compared to government. Businesses are largely seen as agents of change with the ability to encourage cooperation across large swaths of society due to the connections they’re able to create through their brands. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z and 65 percent of millennials believe businesses can significantly improve the impact of climate change if they act now.

The kids are not all right - Gen Z eager for action

For businesses that do take a stand, there is a considerable opportunity. Nearly a third (32 percent) of employees agreed that if their employer were to act in a way that didn’t align with their values they would quit their job. For the socially conscious Gen Z, this rises to 43 percent while more than half of this cohort (57 percent) believe employees should be allowed to voice their opinions on political and societal issues they care about.

However, only a third of employees (42 percent) are satisfied with the level of action their employer currently takes on key societal issues. Yet with 59 percent agreeing that a business known for speaking out on issues important to them is more attractive as a future employer, the opportunity for improvement is clear.

About the report and research methodology

PwC Australia prepared this research on behalf of Atlassian. It seeks to understand the priorities, expectations, and behaviors of US employees - which societal issues matter most, where responsibility lies and what are the implications of business acting in or out of alignment with the values of a changing workforce.

Qualitative research commenced in November 2019 to explore the topics in depth with 96 US employees and this was used to inform the quantitative survey which completed in December 2019 with N=2421. The samples provided representation across demographics, geographies and employment industries. This report summarises the findings for the US market and a simultaneous study was conducted in Australia.

About Atlassian

Atlassian unleashes the potential of every team. Our team collaboration and productivity software helps teams organize, discuss, and complete shared work. Teams at more than 164,000 customers, across large and small organizations - including General Motors, Walmart Labs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Lyft, Verizon, Spotify, and NASA - use Atlassian’s project tracking, content creation and sharing, and service management products to work better together and deliver quality results on time. Learn more about our products, including Jira Software, Confluence, Trello, Bitbucket, Opsgenie, Jira Service Desk, and Jira Align at

Jake Standish
Contact: 206-384-3961

Source: Atlassian