Google has best reputation in U.S., airlines fall: survey

BOSTON Mon Jun 23, 2008 1:20am EDT

Employees use community bikes to travel around Google headquarters in Mountain View, California March 3, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

Employees use community bikes to travel around Google headquarters in Mountain View, California March 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Erin Siegal

BOSTON (Reuters) - Google Inc's famous employee perks -- from providing "nap pods" for a quick break during the day to allowing engineers to spend 20 percent of their work time on side projects that may spark new ideas -- have given the Internet leader the best reputation in corporate America, according to a study released on Monday.

On the other hand, the U.S. airline industry, which has cut employee pay while raising prices and tacking on fees for formerly free services like meals and checked bags, saw its popularity tumble, the annual Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient poll found.

Largely for its reputation for treating workers well, Google claimed the No. 1 spot from Microsoft Corp, which fell to 10th place.

"The ratings they get focus on how they treat their employees, their workplace environment," said Robert Fronk, senior vice president at Rochester, New York-based Harris. "They absolutely get tremendous credit for the social responsibility, which for them is also linked with their vision and leadership."

Google's famous mantra is "don't be evil."

The airline industry suffered from a perception of treating both the public and its employees poorly, Fronk said. The percentage of respondents whose rating toward it was favorable fell to 26 percent from 31 percent last year, the sharpest drop of any of the 11 industries counted.

The poll, rating the reputations of 60 top U.S. companies and corporate America at large, was conducted in two waves.

Harris selected the 60 companies in July and August, when it asked 7,105 Americans to name two corporations that stood out in their minds for having very positive or very negative reputations. Then in February and March, pollsters turned to 20,477 respondents who rated the 60 companies on 20 attributes, including emotional appeal, the quality of their products and social responsibility.

In addition, the company polled respondents on various industries.

CONSUMER GOODS, TECH PREDOMINATE

The bulk of the list is consumer products companies and tech companies, with women more likely to nominate the former and men the latter.

Rounding out the top 10, from second to ninth, were health care company Johnson & Johnson, chipmaker Intel Corp, food companies General Mills Inc and Kraft Foods Inc, Warren Buffet's investment and insurance enterprise Berkshire Hathaway Inc, diversified manufacturer 3M Co, soft-drink giant Coca-Cola Co and Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co..

Financial services companies make up a relatively small piece of the list, with just Wells Fargo & Co, closely held State Farm Insurance, Allstate Corp and Bank of America Corp representing the sector.

"We have never found the investment banks to really be top of mind among the general public," Fronk said.

Reputation is important in all sectors, he noted, with respondents saying they were more likely to buy products from, invest in or welcome into their communities companies that they view favorably.

The five companies with the worst reputations, according to the study, were oilfield services company Halliburton Co, Venezuela-owned oil company Citgo, Northwest Airlines, oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp and top U.S. cable company Comcast Corp.

Overall, the survey found that 51 percent of respondents believed corporate America's reputation had deteriorated, while 11 percent said it had improved.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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