Your Employees Care About Social Responsibility — You Should Too

Your Employees Care About Social Responsibility — You Should Too

How Organizations Can Increase Employee Engagement Through CSR & Development Opportunities

Historically, in some industries, corporate social responsibility initiatives — for example, providing scholarships to students who are the first in their families to go to college, or investing in STEM education for girls — might have felt like a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.” At times when the economy wasn’t strong, or a business wasn’t performing at its best, going “above and beyond” with CSR might have seemed financially irresponsible.

Yet even before the global pandemic, the tide had started turning. Organizations are increasingly being called upon to take responsibility for the ways their operations impact society and the natural environment. It’s no longer acceptable for a corporation to experience economic prosperity in isolation from those impacted by its actions. Firms must now focus on both profitability and being a good corporate citizen.

The disruptions caused by the global COVID pandemic have played a key role in turning the spotlight even more toward corporate purpose and purposeful leadership, renewing the focus on long-term financial, social, and talent sustainability at many organizations.

The truth is, organizations have enormous potential to effect change in their communities and the environment when they invest in corporate social responsibility initiatives and leadership — and in doing so, they can also boost their bottom lines.

Field-based and laboratory studies have found that corporate social responsibility initiatives are linked to increased purchase behavior, higher customer satisfaction, and higher market value of a firm, all of which translate into increased profitability.

But not only do customers have higher perceptions of a company; our research has found that employees are also prouder of, and more committed to, their organizations when their organizations are focused on corporate social responsibility.

Why Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives Strengthen Employee Engagement & Commitment

Why are employees more committed to organizations that focus on corporate social responsibility?

Our Retiring the Generation Gap research, which led to the publication of our book, What Millennials Want from Work, found that most working adults, regardless of their generation, want the same things at work — and are committed to their organizations for substantially the same reasons.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives can, of course, increase engagement for employees of all ages. This makes sense; our personal identities are partly tied up in the companies we work for: “If my organization is helping to save the world, I am too. I feel good about the work I do.”

CSR Matters Even More to Certain Employee Groups

While corporate social responsibility initiatives can strengthen commitment for members of all generations, corporate social responsibility may be especially important for engagement and retention of younger workers and female employees.

Millennial workers in particular want to do good and do well. In fact, this is among the keys to attracting and retaining Millennial employees. Our research has found that almost 85% of Millennials believe that making a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.

And while both men and women tend to think that their organizations are doing well as corporate citizens, our data found that women feel a stronger commitment to their organizations than men do as a result of their organization’s CSR initiatives. This aligns with our other research which has found that viewing work as a “calling” is among the key things that women want from work and which can help retain more women in the workplace.

The takeaway: a focus on corporate social responsibility is particularly important to attract, retain, and increase the commitment and engagement of Millennial employees and talented women leaders.

Hot to Get Your Employees Excited About Your Investments in Corporate Social Responsibility

But to reap the benefits of corporate social responsibility initiatives, companies have to be strategic in communicating about their good deeds. After all, employees can’t be proud of something that they aren’t aware of.

Often, leaders at the highest levels of an organization have the most positive view of their company’s corporate social responsibility work. “These top-level managers are likely to have a strong sense of ownership of CSR initiatives because they are responsible for making the decisions about CSR initiatives,” says Sarah Stawiski, director of our leadership analytics Insights & Impact group.

“And it follows that they would likely have a positive view of the policies they helped create.”

Employees at lower levels of the organization may report lower levels of commitment, partially because they aren’t aware of all the organization’s corporate social responsibility initiatives that the C-suite knows about.

So to maximize organizational engagement and retention benefits from corporate social responsibility efforts, senior executives should remember that not everyone knows what they know. 

Recommendations for Senior Leaders on Communicating CSR Wins

According to our research study, there’s good news about sharing the good news: Once employees — from frontline leaders to senior executives — know about their company’s social responsibility initiatives, they are just as committed as those C-suite executives.

As they publicize their efforts, there are 3 points that senior leaders need to keep in mind:

1. Share tangible positive outcomes and real impact.

For example, communicate exactly how much money and paper have been saved through a sustainability initiative to reduce paper waste. Show serious commitment and back up your assertions with real impact data.

2. Don’t make “much ado about nothing.”

In other words, be sure your corporate social responsibility programs and policies are actually making a difference, and that you really have something great to share. Avoid “check-the-box” initiatives that aren’t substantial and authentic.

3. Get everyone involved.

In addition to communicating your organization’s CSR efforts, make an effort to get leaders at all levels of your organization involved in advancing corporate social responsibility. Companies that do a great job at leveraging their social responsibility initiatives embed them into their employees’ jobs. Multiple advantages of this approach include:

  • Employees come up with innovative ideas for how to make a positive impact in the community and meet a business need at the same time.
  • Employees believe in the importance of their organization’s CSR initiatives, and as a result, they’re even more committed to their organization.
  • Employees prefer contributing to work they find meaningful.

Remember the Big Picture About Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR Is Important, But Providing Ample Support & Development Matter Even More to Employees

While our data show that corporate social responsibility initiatives do make a unique contribution to organizational commitment, the data also indicates that it’s less important than basic job satisfaction.

In other words, if employees are not generally happy and trusting of the organization, a strong corporate responsibility program is less likely to result in an improved retention rate than initiatives that directly improve job satisfaction, such as job enrichment, development opportunities, and autonomy — as these are some of the key things that ultimately dictate whether employees want to leave or stay with their organizations.

Still, the social responsibility tide is swelling, especially among younger workers, who believe that creating social value is the primary purpose of business — not to make a profit. Purpose-driven leadership isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And just as employees express their desire to work for a socially responsible corporation through increased engagement and retention, customers speak with their dollars. Increasingly, they care about the social and environmental effects of corporations and prefer products tied to a social cause. As this happens, CSR becomes all the more important. There’s even a push among businesses to become certified for their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

That’s why leaders who understand how to leverage their corporate social responsibility initiatives and provide equitable access to opportunities will be at a strong advantage in the future. They’ll put down roots that support strong growth, both for their organizations and their communities.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Make sure that in combination with your corporate social responsibility initiatives, you’re also increasing employee engagement, motivation, and commitment by connecting to your people’s values and providing ample opportunities for talent development. Partner with us to build a common leadership language across your entire organization — take advantage of the options to license our content. In doing so, you can engage leaders at all levels of your organization as you bring our proven research, programs, and tools to scale learning and growth.

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November 24, 2021
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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