Corporate social responsibility has become a catch-phrase in the philanthropic world. The perception of CSR departments is that the corporate is looking to dump money on whichever NGO applies first.
However, many corporates have built extensive internal structures to ensure that their CSR initiatives serve a greater purpose than just satisfying the government and PR requirements.
One purpose corporates embrace is that CSR can directly translate into employee engagement. Sometimes, this is easier said than done.
Three Keys that Reinvent CSR for Employee Engagement
In and of itself, CSR does little for employee engagement. While it strengthens the relationship between the corporate and the society, the employee is left out of the picture.
For employee engagement to grow from a CSR program, the employee must be factored into the equation. In other words, a CSR program fosters employee engagement when it is a program designed for the employee and dependent on the employee.
There are three keys for a corporate to build a CSR program centered around their employees. First, a CSR program must identify itself as existing for the employee. Second, a CSR program must be designed to serve corporate growth. Third, a CSR program must develop from the employee outwards to the community and the cause.
The First Key – CSR built for the Employee
The unfortunate truth is that most people perceive CSR to exist for the benefit of the corporate, not the employee. CSR is viewed as a public relations and marketing campaign.
Often this is an unfair assessment. Nonetheless, every corporate must shed this image. For employee engagement to stand a chance, the employee must believe that they are the purpose of the CSR program.
The CSR program, first, must be obviously mapped to the work culture of the organization. Secondly, the corporate must localize the CSR program in order to empower employee involvement.
CSR that Maps to Work Culture
Corporates must drive their CSR program based on their work culture, not the culture of the cause they choose. It seems counterintuitive to build a CSR program that is in the image of the employees and not the cause. However, this is critical for engagement.
For example, if a corporate’s work culture engages employees in education or training, then its CSR must do the same. If the work culture promotes independent working styles, then the CSR initiative must stem from that.
It would not make sense for a real estate office, a corporate that encourages independent work, to create a CSR program that forces employees to interact with one another. Since their employees rarely interact each other for their job, a CSR program that forces the employees to collaborate would appear disingenuous. Whatever the work culture within the organization, that should be the work culture the CSR program promotes.
The corporate should NOT use the CSR program to change the work culture. Again, it would feel contrived, or worse, it would reinforce the original image of serving the corporate but not the employees.
Further, the CSR initiative must map to the individual personalities and characteristics of the employees. If a corporate is a team of software developers, a CSR program should incorporate their innate logic or problem-solving skills and habits. If a corporate is a team of physicians, a health-oriented focus is suitable. And so on.
In a nutshell, the CSR program must reflect the employees as they are.
CSR Localized around the Employee
Localization of any corporate activity shows a focus on the team in that region. This is true for all corporate activities, not just CSR. Regardless of the localized function, the corporate achieves the same effect of associating the activity with the team.
For example, if an employee works in a different location from the corporate executive team, they would feel a disconnect between themselves and the executive team. Conversely, locating management in the same office as the employee associates that executive function to the employee, even though they play no role in that function.
The same holds true for a CSR initiative localized around an employee. If a CSR program performs social action in a part of the world disconnected from the employee, the employee is disconnected from the corporate effort towards the cause. Employee engagement requires that the employee is connected to the CSR effort.
To be clear, employee engagement does not require that the cause itself be localized to the employee, though it helps. It does however require that critical aspects to the CSR program must be localized.
The localized aspects of the CSR program must be palpable to the employee. In the example of a corporate which supports philanthropic work overseas, by localizing even the selection and evaluation of the remote causes, the employee feels connected to the CSR effort, despite the cause being located in a different part of the world. Localization of certain functions of a CSR program builds a connection between the employee and the program.
Through work culture mapping and localization, the corporate can shed the image of CSR as a marketing ploy, the path is paved for employee engagement to take root.
The Second Key – CSR Designed for Corporate Growth
An employee who feels engaged is one who feels that they are contributing to the organization and that the organization is contributing to them. This is the essence of employee engagement. A CSR program must feed into this bidirectional growth.
CSR Enhances Corporate Citizenship
Growth must benefit the corporate. As mentioned earlier, the CSR program must be based on the work culture. This is true to the extent that the CSR program must also translate to corporate citizenship.
Corporate citizenship is the idea that businesses can generate value by participating in an organization’s responsibility to the care for all stakeholders including the environment. In other words, the connection between corporate growth and CSR must be obvious for the employees to see.
Embracing CSR as a means for corporate growth illustrates to the employees the need for participation and engagement. For example, a clothing brand plans a CSR initiative encouraging all of its sales employees to find charitable ways of disposing overstocked or discontinued items. First, the disposal of merchandise is a core competency of the employee. Second, the effort naturally is localized. Finally, the corporate gains business value because its branded merchandise, even when freely given, is a means of gaining market share through spreading word-of-mouth.
While this secondary motive seems in opposition to the perceived selfless nature of CSR, this is in fact an unfounded. The idea that philanthropy must be purely selfless is hollow at best. True service stems from self-development and fulfillment through the service of others. The only difference between CSR and a corporate with a vision to serve the community is the financial aspect. Remove the money and all corporate activity should become CSR.
Furthermore, building business value through charity makes the effort sustainable in the long run. The CSR effort transforms into a social enterprise for the benefit of the business and the society.
As might be expected, CSR does not always generate financial business value. However, it can bring business value in terms of market reach, product development, employee training, recruiting, etc… CSR achieves deeper levels of employee engagement when it is creatively implemented to serve the business.
CSR that Develops Employees
The second direction of growth must directly benefit the employee. An employee must believe that their personal development is important to the corporate and best served through the CSR initiative.
To achieve this, a CSR program must view employees as key stakeholders. Participation alone is not growth. The CSR program must be structured in a way in which the employee grows through their participation. This level of involvement is only possible with a localized CSR initiative.
If the CSR initiative enhances the business value of the organization, then it is obviously in the best interest of both the employee and the organization to strengthen the ability of the employee to perform for the advancement of this business value. The CSR program should incorporate measurable skill development, team unity and success metrics in order for the employee to appreciate the reality of their growth and their added value to the corporate.
The Third Key – CSR that Builds from the Employee
In most organizations, CSR departments are independent functions from HR. While this is necessary for financial reasons, it creates a divide between CSR and HR, implicitly confirming the gap between CSR and the corporate’s employees.
This gap must be closed because a CSR program which promotes employee engagement is a CSR program that builds off the identity of the employee. The identity of the corporate is integral to the CSR program; similarly, the identity of the participating employee is equally integral.
One’s identity is revealed by the capacity and method by which one might contribute to society. This identity is developed from one’s experiences over the years, a combination of the voluntary and involuntary milestones. In other words, your identity not only explains who you are but why you are who you are.
Not only do the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, skill sets, and other characteristics play a role in CSR planning, but also the employee’s experiences and motivations must be involved in the design and the implementation of the CSR initiative.
CSR Designed by Employees
Corporate Social Responsibility is a broad umbrella arching over a plethora of philanthropic activities. To pick which cause and by which method is a challenge in and of itself. This is where employee engagement can be maximized.
Integrating employees into the design of the CSR initiative allows the CSR program to reveal their personal identity. A bottom-up approach to CSR program design enables this employee identity to imprint itself onto the program.
Interestingly enough, employees have a clear and loud voice when it comes to the areas of focus in CSR. Engagement improves when CSR initiatives require an intellectual or a skill-based involvement. Correspondingly, CSR initiatives which ar purely financial contributions do not improve employee engagement.
Involving employees in the design of the CSR initiative encourages ownership of the program. The employee identity must shape the CSR program.
CSR Driven by Employees
In addition to design, the employees must drive the CSR initiative. As discussed, employee engagement develops through engagement of the employee’s identity. For one’s identity to become associated to an activity or a group, self-determination must be integral to that activity or group. Self-Determination requires three characteristics that act together as motivational drivers leading to engagement: autonomy, support, and work/growth.
First, autonomy reflects the employee’s belief that they are in control of their engagement. Intuitively, this is key to self-determination. Employee’s need to be key decision makers in their CSR involvement.
Simply mandating that all employees participate will not only be an ineffective employee engagement strategy, but it will drive employee’s away from engagement in other areas.
It is worth noting that employees do not consider financial incentives as self-determined motivators. Employees believe that financial compensation is a right, not an earned reward. While this belief is true for salary, it extends to all forms of financial reward.
For example, a tip at a restaurant is a reward given to a waiter as a thank you gift. However, if a customer were to place that tip on the table at the beginning of the meal and then tell the waiter that, depending on performance, that tip will slowly reduce, it is no longer a gift in the mind of the waiter. Rather, the waiter perceives it as a pre-existing financial compensation.
Instead of encouraging a self-determined motivation, the incentive has become a threat to the waiter. The customer has the power to rescind the waiter’s right to that tip. One can see how there is no encouragement for engagement in this model.
Autonomy must be voluntary. Engagement comes from the employee’s belief that their involvement will further empower themselves, their team, their organiation, and their community. Autonomy must come in the previously stated methods which encourage this level of CSR engagement.
Second, the employee must feel support. While the importance of management support in CSR critical, support from one’s peers, one’s own team, is also required for improved engagement.
If at all possible, CSR must NOT encourage the employee to work in isolation. The only exception if the corporate work culture encourages an isolated work culture. A CSR program must be a shared experience, from the planning, to the execution, to the evaluation, and to the celebration. This message of team unity is vital to an enhanced feeling of support.
Third, a CSR program must include growth as its objective. Work and growth are known drivers of engagement. The employee must experience their own growth in the forms of appraisal, evaluation, even promotion within the CSR initiative. In a way, the employee perceives themselves as employed within the corporate’s CSR social enterprise.
This framework of self-determination, built on autonomy, support, and growth, leads to an intrinsic level of motivation. Employee engagement emerges outward from this internal locus.
Transforming CSR for Employee Engagement
A CSR initiative which strives to incorporate these three keys will achieve a new level of employee engagement stemming from an intrinsic source of motivation.
First, it must package the CSR program as a corporate initiative that exists for the sake of the employee, and not for marketing, public relations, or even the corporate HR function. The work culture should shape it. The location of the employees should govern it.
Second, it must be designed for the purposes of both corporate and individual employee growth. It should be seen as a key component in the corporate’s overall business value.
Finally, it must build from the employee up. Both design and implementation drivers must be rooted in the employees.
If these three keys can be implemented, employee engagement will be at the heart of the CSR initiative.