CEO’s reputation matters when it comes to hiring employees

37% of professionals in South Africa would rethink accepting a job offer based on a company’s CEO. File image.

37% of professionals in South Africa would rethink accepting a job offer based on a company’s CEO. File image.

Published Apr 14, 2024


If your company’s CEO is disliked or has a bad reputation, it could affect who you hire.

This comes after 37% of professionals in South Africa would rethink accepting a job offer based on a company’s CEO, even if they ‘liked’ their line manager, with a further 15% stating that they would outright decline a job offer based on who the CEO is.

The findings come from new research from specialist recruitment firm Robert Walters, ‘unveiling the significant role CEOs and leaders are having on workplaces and professionals in South Africa’.

According to the poll of 2 000 white-collar professionals, (64%) trust the leaders of their organisation to do what is right.

While there is a level of distrust in leadership with (36%) stating that they somewhat don’t trust leaders will do the right thing.

Samantha-Jane Gravett, Director of Robert Walters Africa, said, "Over the past year and a half, there has been a noticeable increase in the visibility and influence of CEOs and leaders in various sectors, extending from government officials to celebrities and influencers. Anyone who has a significant ‘voice’ is feeling the pressure to use it wisely – and increasingly are expected to comment or provide a perspective on a host of different issues.”

“With this ‘voice’ comes judgement – and our polls showcase that prospective employees are in fact making career decisions based on a CEO’s opinion, or lack thereof,” Gravett added.

CEO Front and Centre

According to the poll, almost half of professionals feel that the CEO has the biggest impact on a company’s culture (45%), with a further third (35%) stating mid -management is just as influential.

Just (17%) feel that it is the overall employees of an organisation that have an influence of the workplace culture.

Gravett further added, “We only have to look at examples such as OpenAI, or even the recent government cabinet reshuffle, to see the influence that senior leadership has on whether people even want to work for the organisation. Increasingly CEO and senior leaders will play a crucial role in turnover, attraction, and retention rates.”

The key to CEO success

Further to findings, 41% of professionals believe that CEOs who ‘lead by example’ bring the most value to a company – whilst a quarter put CEO success down to being empathetic and a good listener.

Just over a fifth feel that being decisive and taking advice where needed is the key to winning people in the company over.

Gravett said, “Increasingly we are finding that professionals want to know that the leaders sitting at the helm of major companies know what they are doing and can lead with confidence and conviction – as well as maintain an empathetic and listening ear to their employees, and even wider society. It’s all about being in-touch with the people around you, having a diverse team, and hearing a host of different opinions and mediating on the single best solution to any problems that may arise. No matter how experienced a leader may be – they should never assume they have all the answers.”

The solution: Two-way trust

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that out of the 71% of employees who felt trusted by their CEO, 87% trusted their CEO in return – whilst the 29% of professionals who didn’t feel trusted by their CEO, only 27% trusted their CEO.

Gravett added, “There are many ways employees develop trust with their CEOs – things like feeling that their opinions are valued, they can express their views and see how they are recognised as well as feeling some involvement or are least aware of the decisions being made.”

Results from the poll also found that the two most common factors that led to employees distrusting CEOs was leaders having a ‘hidden agenda and playing into corporate politics’ (48%), and those who delivered unclear and inconsistent messages (31%).

Other factors that led to employees distrusting were CEOs who lacked a strong voice (14%) – whilst only 6% were led to doubts over a negative reputation.

Gravett said, “The blueprint for building trust is clear – employees want leaders who are transparent and good communicators who maintain a strong, consistent voice. Who aren’t afraid to play an active role in creating a positive culture.”

“Reputation, surprisingly, trails behind these other qualities. Showing it’s not always about trying to have the ‘popular opinion.”