The idea of corporate social responsibility is hardly new. In particular, global and environmentally impactful companies have been historically sensitive to the role of public service. A company that earns billions, seen re-investing some of that wealth, either to the local community or a high profile cause is good PR.
Companies that operate refineries, factories, or other activities that emit exceptional noise or fumes tend to be sensitive to building relationships with local residents. Pharmaceutical organisations have often spearheaded campaigns to address diseases and other medical needs of at-risk communities in developing countries. But what is relatively new is the employee demand – there is no other way to put it – for the opportunity to serve. The prioritisation of corporate social responsibility among job seekers makes it not only a compelling, but fundamental, element of where they accept employment.
Part of the shift is generational. Millennial employees are distinctively more insistent upon corporate social responsibility opportunities, specifically. This is not about a greater interest than other generations about doing volunteer work generally. This is about making their career decisions based on an employer’s agenda and prioritisation of CSR. In a 2016 survey by Cone Communication 85% of Millennials in the US said they wanted their company to provide opportunities for them to help make a positive impact on its social and environmental commitments. (A stunning 89% wanted to influence the company’s decisions about the CSR agenda, structure and recipients. Make what you will of that.)
64% of Millennials said they will not work for a company without those opportunities. In other words, nearly two-thirds of what will be 50% of the workforce by 2020 indicates they would pass up jobs that didn’t articulate a clear social responsibility programme opportunities.
That said, these statistics should not be swept into the “Millennial Differences” folder – this emphasis on CSR is on the rise generally. While the Cone survey found that 85% of Gen Y wanted the company to offer CSR opportunities, it was true of 71% respondents overall. That’s hardly insignificant for companies looking to remain competitive.
The question is, what can and should employers do to ensure they are not losing ability to attract and retain great talent due to their CSR programmes?
Make a commitment to social responsibility efforts that reflects authentic and financial investment.
This doesn’t mean that programmes have to cost a lot in terms of cash such as donations or infrastructure. But it does mean supporting a reasonable amount of employee time to participate in such programmes. That could mean time spent in certain activities, or encouraging suggestions of causes or programmes. As the survey indicated, for Millennials in particular there’s a keen interest not only to participate but also to shape such efforts.
If the specific programmes or causes are established or managed at an executive level, frequent and transparent corporate communication can keep people engaged. For some employees, even if they can’t participate, it’s valuable to them that the organisation’s commitment to CSR is aligned with their own.
Consider efforts that align with the company’s business.
For both the organisation and the employee, it can sometimes be more logical and more appealing if the social cause aligns with the business interest. While there are notable exceptions to the contrary – Ronald McDonald House being one of them – it makes sense to assume that people do choose where they work in part because they have technical or personal interest in the business.
Patagonia, the outdoor gear company makes the statement that of all the valid and important political and social causes to focus on, “none of it matters if it’s a dead planet.” Fair enough. But while it aligns with their brand that if you care about the planet you might also spend more time outdoors (and need products like theirs), there’s nothing wrong with tackling head on potential issues associated with your industry.
Burberry has relationships with organisations that support economically- and environmentally- conscious production of cotton, leather and cashmere, as well as scholarships for students at the Royal College of Art. LVMH, which owns the beverage brand Moet-Hennessey, also has a programme to encourage responsible drinking.
Make sure the commitment is vocal and visible.
Programmes, strategic alliances, and other efforts should be easy to find on a corporate website. While it might seem extreme to make it a banner on the home page, it certainly is indefensible not to make it an easily identified link in the footer – and it’s worth considering the message in those choices.
Ideally the efforts, the mission, the goal … and the results, should be transparent. Consider those results to be a reportable priority not unlike quarterly reports made to shareholders, or any other readout on business initiatives. BlackRock’s letter to CEOs is an example of fully eradicating any line between traditional business line priorities and CSR goals. Growth and profitability is what a company should be measuring. But its future value relies in part on the quality of talent attracted to support that growth.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.