Why Corporate Social Responsibility Matters


Once every three months a Bay Street firm’s leadership team and employees trade wealth management portfolios for kitchen chopping blocks, and cook up good eats for those less fortunate.  Every quarter, that half day of business time channeled into volunteering serves up a lot more than goodwill. Working side by side, dicing onions, wearing aprons, it’s brought a palpable human dimension into the company. Leadership is more visible, more approachable in an informal setting. Because of those hours the firm’s team of some 100 employees, see one another first and foremost as people with a common purpose and shared sense of pride. In turn, that purpose and pride translates into a highly profitable organization with an impressive overall employee engagement score of 87%.

It’s no surprise that there’s a link between corporate social responsibility (CSR), and levels of employee engagement.

Engagement, after all, is rooted at the emotional level. Employees want to feel the organization they work for cares about them as individuals. When they feel that’s the case, they care back. And when they care back they want to put in that extra effort. Genuine corporate social responsibility extends that sense of caring beyond business parameters.

The Psychology of Engagement and CSR

In Maslow’s hierarchy human beings need to essentially satisfy a group of needs in succession.

There’s a similar pattern when looking at employee engagement.

It starts with foundational needs met through the mission of the organization, it’s leadership and management; followed by physical needs met through compensation; safety needs met through enablement and good workspace; caring needs through belonging, communication, teamwork and collaboration; self-esteem through diversity, integrity, ethics, respect, and innovation; culminating with working to potential at the pinnacle.

Corporate social responsibility addresses a number of these different needs predominantly through purpose and pride.

To link employee engagement and CSR, organizations need to be articulating, communicating, instilling and reinforcing their fundamental sense of purpose. “We exist to make money for our shareholders” or, “to grow by x% every year” simply doesn’t cut it. People are looking beyond the profit motive.

Bottom line success isn’t celebrated to the same degree it once was. The workforce doesn’t want to work to line the pockets of their boss or their boss’s boss.  It’s about social or environmental stewardship, reputational value.

The overarching characteristic of CSR best practice organizations, like the Toronto Bay Street wealth management firm, is they incorporate or weave social issues into the very fabric of their organization, giving people a sense of optimism and emotional investment that inspires them to want to go the extra mile, with extra verve. And when organizations, have a critical mass of employees who are doing and feeling these things and exhibiting those behaviors, they see results.

Getting Corporate Social Responsibility Started

  1. Set goals: articulate your purpose and why you exist as an organization answering: can we expand this in terms of social and/or environmental responsibility?
  2. Get buy-in from the top: make a business case that aligns CSR with employee engagement, productivity and profitability
  3. Keep the process targeted
  4. Start (and stay) small
  5. Focus on issues that matter to stakeholders – with employees being some of your most important stakeholders
  6. Let employees lead.

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