Corporate Social Responsibility: A Lever For Employee Attraction And Engagement

corporate social responsibility

This Forbes article contains some challenging results from surveys about what some employees would be willing to trade off in terms of pay in exchange for a workplace that was into social responsibility, positive environmental impact or similar values. I’m a little cynical but having made some similar trade-offs myself in recent years, I can believe it. I think my cynicism is around the fact that these employees must have some baseline of income they’d demand before they start getting all altruistic. Fair enough. The happiness research says that beyond a certain point, more money doesn’t make you sustainably happier. So maybe some of these warm, fuzzy organisational behaviours would?

When it comes to employees, ‘happy’ is not the same as ‘engaged.’ Happy is whatever you think it is for you. Engaged means you’re applying discretionary effort at work – i.e. doing stuff you don’t HAVE TO because you CHOOSE TO. That said, I’d like to be happy and I’d like employees to be happy. Of course, the big question is to what extent am I, or any employer, willing to pay for that happiness? My usual answer applies, “It depends.”

It would depend a whole lot less if there was a genuine willingness to make some trade-off. We’d all love to hug a tree but might be less inclined to live in one.

35% would take a 15% pay cut to work for a company “committed to corporate social responsibility” (whatever that means.) 45% would take a 15% pay cut to work for a company making a social or environmental impact. (I presume they mean a positive impact?) 58% would take a 15% pay cut to work for a company “with values like my own.”

Employee engagement and people’s natural internal motivation is driven by, amongst other things, a sense of purpose – contributing to something greater, something beyond self. I think that, for this influence to kick in, it would have to be a more specific personal connection than merely a general or vague corporate social responsibility. It would need to be precise and relevant to the individual. Taking a 15% pay cut to work for a company that might cure cancer sounds like a box you’d tick on a survey. But if you had cancer or loved someone who did, you wouldn’t have time to tick the box or take surveys because you’d be passionately engaged in working towards helping cure cancer. Nothing inspires a personal protest against motorways more than a letter revealing your house is in the way of a motorway development.

The sad thing, not so much about the article itself but how some employers may interpret it, is how some employers may choose to use the information from the survey. If the primary finding was that people will take a pay cut to do good deeds with us, you’d like to think that would encourage employers to do good deeds etc. The last recommendation of the article was to optimise social media to spread the word about the good deeds. This spin angle is what many businesses will pick up on. What will get generated may not be a better world but a noisier one. But I suppose the community-minded employee has to find out about potential employers somehow. I do worry that the truly socially responsible corporates will be drowned out by those with shiny facades and little true depth.

So, long-story-short-too-late, I agree that community contribution or social responsibility or whatever label you choose to use, could be a useful lever for enhancing employee engagement but it would have to be strongly personally relevant and emotionally connecting. But, even if it wasn’t, I’d prefer banks etc not to be parasitic blood-sucking leeches.

Posted on June 11, 2012, in Employee Engagement, Influence, Responsibility and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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