Millennial Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Expectations Fuel Employee Engagement

corporate social responsibility

Millennials are the dominant force in today’s work world and their drum-call for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) keeps getting louder and more persistent.

Business pundits and scholars point to growing evidence between CSR and employee engagement. One of those studies, out of IBM Global Services, found 44 percent of young professionals wouldn’t consider an employer with a bad reputation and nearly half said corporate social responsibility policies should be compulsory.

The hyper-mobile Millennial generation wants to work for organizations where similar values are shared and being true to one’s self is supported. If those desires go unmet, they pack up their talents and set off for more meaningful employment elsewhere.

My daughters are Millennials. They’ve stood in solidarity with the families and friends of missing and murdered indigenous women, marched against oil and gas pipeline developments in Dakota and British Columbia, volunteered with drop-in centers for sex-trade workers and rape victims, work with children on the autism spectrum and the families of children with fetal alcohol syndrome. They’ve volunteered at an African orphanage on the outskirts of the Serengeti, helped families build sandbanks against rising flood waters, earned a Masters Degree in International Development, promoted the environmental agenda of Canada’s Green Party and worked with the International Emergencies and Disasters team as an employee of Red Cross. That’s the social activism of just two young people.

Multiply those kinds of interests and activities by 83.1 million U.S. Millennials and, as Towers Perrin observed based on the results of its Global Workforce Study:

“… one thing is increasingly clear. It’s not a choice any longer. Your employees expect it, and your company needs it … it is in fact linked to how well your employees perform. In other words, CSR extends to the bottom line.”

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), a Canadian consumer cooperative selling outdoor recreational gear and clothing is an excellent case in point.  A CSR piece posted by looked at how MEC’s efforts “better the world, engage employees and boost profits.” The story pointed to how the organization’s CSR initiatives work to improve the human condition in factories through ethical sourcing and reduce the co-op’s ecological footprint by focusing on product sustainability. One percent of all sales are donated to support environmental causes. And a diversity policy formally spells out a continuing commitment to an open workplace for all people, based on fair and equitable treatment.

“Our brand and products appeal to those who are actively involved in outdoor pursuits. As a result, applicants to jobs at MEC tend to be people who appreciate nature. Based on this, many of our external Corporate Social Responsibility efforts focus on maintaining or improving the environment. By catering to the needs of our applicants and employees in these ways, we become an employer of choice and they’re proud to be associated with our company.” – CEO, David Labistour

Surveys and academic studies provide mounds of evidence reiterating Labistour’s thinking and illustrate how CSR activities positively influence attitude and behavior and shape an employee’s overall sense of identity with and connection to their workplace.

A global survey of 1.6 million employees reported those with a favorable view of their organization’s CSR commitments were also positive about:

  • senior management’s integrity
  • senior management’s sense of direction
  • the organization’s competitiveness in the marketplace
  • the organization’s interest in employees’ well-being
  • their engagement or pride in their organization.

Research conducted by Cone Millennial Cause Group found that 80% of a sample of 1,800 13-25 year olds wanted to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. More than half said they would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.

  • Find out what issues resonate
  • Ask what can be done individually and collectively to make a meaningful difference; invite suggestions
  • Form and maintain a CSR task force with representation from various levels and departments
  • Establish special interest teams and community outreach groups, also from different levels and departments
    • make provisions for volunteering during work hours
    • acknowledge the skills employees pick up along the way and bring back to their jobs
  • If the means are there, connect employees, especially emerging top talent, to international CSR opportunities, most especially in developing nations, where cultural differences and different ways of approaching and doing things can lead to R&D innovations and strategic shifts in thinking; or make provisions for an extended leave of absence for those pursuing a voluntouring experience on their own.

Organizations engaged in social, environmental or philanthropic endeavors, intentionally or not, convey a commitment to the betterment of others. By extension, a strong and caring Corporate Social Responsibility image becomes an influential factor in an organization’s ability to attract, retain and engage employees

In the words of a 33-year young TED Talks employee:

“I need to work toward a mission.  The company environment is different when you’re working toward a mission rather than a bottom line. You’re in it together, working for a common goal. I’ve found it hard to be motivated to line someone else’s pockets. Even if I don’t always love what I do day to day, I know I’m working for a good purpose, putting something good into the world.” – Ted Talk Employee

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