One of the most talked about (and documented) business benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is employee attraction and retention. We also know from the latest Net Impact study (pdf) that an overwhelming majority of workers want to work in a position that helps them make a difference. The business case for employee involvement in CSR is strong, with more and more companies taking on employee volunteering programs and dollar-for-doers like initiatives to involve the workforce in their CSR agenda.
That said, this is also the most cynical bunch of people when it comes to company CSR programs and some employees are downright critical. This could be because they have seen firsthand how the company operates and can therefore smell a rat when things are not as great as they are made out to be. This could also be because they feel a certain level of antagonism towards a company that puts customers first or that believes its primary responsibility is to the community while falling short on its responsibility as an employer. But most of all, this cynicism comes from not being treated as an intelligent group of stakeholders with specific information needs. Many, if not all of these needs can be addressed through well thought-out CSR messaging that respects their intelligence and treats them as an insider. This post is about how to create such messaging:
Make the CSR message undeletable:
As Paul Klein writes in his excellent article, “employees are so nervous about meeting their performance objectives that they delete every CSR-related email and tune out all the posters in their lunchrooms and elevators”. This one is so true I want to shout it from the rooftops. When employees are constantly hammered about meeting often unrealistic professional targets, they can’t be expected to respond enthusiastically about something fluffy like CSR. While this issue runs at a more elemental level, what the CSR team can do is to make their messages, short, fun and moving. Whether it is a success story in the community or an invitation to volunteer, your message should not sound like it is being delivered from the pulpit but from a friend who is sharing inspirational and exciting news over social media.
Tell me how you make me proud:
Every employee wants to be proud of their employer, they want to be able to talk about their employer with reverence and admiration. Employees are your brand ambassadors and when you talk to them, think of communicating the impact your CSR efforts have had, not just the efforts. For example, talk about how many people your program helped versus how many dollars you spent.
Why should I refer my best friend to the company?
Recruiters have long peddled employee referrals as the best method of tapping into fresh talent—and rightfully so. Employees who work for a company that cares are more likely to spread the word. Companies that attract top talent don’t rely on career days and campus displays to recruit top talent, but because they have a reputation that they take care of their people. If your company is the poster child of “customer first at all costs”, the message that you are giving your employees is that they are replaceable, insignificant and expendable. No matter what your website or job advertisement says, if your employees do not back up your claims, it’s back to the drawing board for you.
How are you making my life easier?
Responsible employment practices like accountability and transparency, flexible work culture, ethical selection criteria and clear career progression paths are just some of the many ways companies can gain employee trust. No matter how much you spend on community and environmental conservation, if I don’t feel that I am being treated fairly, no amount of mushy posters or frilly taglines can make me believe in you and your cause.
Are you giving me more than just the money?
Are you giving me a chance to make a difference, either through my job or by being part of your CSR? This not only means paid volunteering time but every chance a company gives its employees that has the potential to make a positive impact in the world. Making the world a better place is a rather quaint concept and is very relative. What a company can do is to offer its people a platform, where no matter what their passion is, no matter how they see the world, no matter what job they have, they can help improve the world in any way they can.
Companies are quick to paint rosy pictures about their commitment to CSR and community and to saving the word but on-the-ground realities often show otherwise. While it is great to make big promises, it is equally important to mean every word you say. The employee wants to see top management involved in all things CSR, they also want to see you walking the talk and most importantly they want to see you putting CSR above profits.