Need new ways to engage employees? Try CSR

Community outreach can benefit not only the world at large, but also employee morale and excitement


Corporate social responsibility, once a fringe concept in the business world, has garnered increased buzz in the past few years. But beyond the outward benefits that volunteer work provides the world, the internal advantages it affords an organization can be transformative.

Outreach initiatives have been shown to improve morale, confidence, and excitement among employees. As CSR expert Malcolm Scovil puts it, "Employees generally feel motivated to work for companies knowing that they actually give a damn about wider society and they're more likely to be productive and put extra effort in for those organizations."

In the CSR initiatives I've worked on, I've seen people of every age redefine their values and find new passions that leave lasting impressions on the companies they work for. It's time for more organizations to discover the massive improvements CSR can bring, both inside and out.

Reduce, reuse, reinvigorate

When executed properly, CSR's transformative nature can provide a big boost to employee morale. According to a 2017 Harris Poll study, 75% of employees have come to expect business leaders to help organizations that assist communities in need.

That employee satisfaction even trickles down to the consumer. A Washington State University study found that customer satisfaction closely matches that of a company's employees, while Gallup research shows that the companies with the most engaged team members are ranked 10% higher by their customers.

What does this look like in practice? Starbucks is a perfect example, regularly encouraging employees and customers to dedicate time to local causes. In turn, certain locations donate up to 15 cents per transaction to help out nonprofit partners. The company aspires to have 100% of its worldwide locations participating in these initiatives by the end of 2020.

Through its pillars of community, ethical sourcing, and the environment, Starbucks uplifts its team members and the globe. Starbucks' commitment to CSR that engages employees is a sign that companies of all sizes can do the same.

Helping out from within

How can business leaders utilize this principle for themselves and use CSR to improve their own employee engagement? Here are a few tips to get you on the right path:

1. Create hands-on opportunities. The easiest way to employ CSR is to fund a project and hire a team to do the work under your corporate banner. Then, actually allow your employees to have some hands-on involvement so they can feel the full emotional impact of your CSR initiative rather than witness it from a distance.

Tim Mohin, director of corporate social responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices, saw this impact firsthand when he gave his employees the opportunity to directly help with waste reduction and energy conservation. "We asked our green team members, does being able to contribute to a cause while you're at work improve your commitment and level of engagement to your core job function and to the company? 96% agreed."

Provide your employees a direct connection to your CSR work. It'll not only engage them with the work your company does internally, but it'll also inspire them to continue with the work your company does externally.

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2. Start traditions. The smallest changes can have massive impacts, especially once they've been established as recurring practices can gain momentum over time. Business leaders like Karmalize .Me founder Shubhra Bhatnagar ask their employees to engage in regular well-being activities to improve their morale. Daily entries in gratitude journals or 30-minute affirmations to those in need have cumulative effects on both positivity and performance.

I actually started my own tradition called "day of action," which I had learned from participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University. You basically choose a high school in the neighborhood and have your employees plant trees around the community and paint positive and inspiring images on the floors of surrounding buildings.

This kind of approach doesn't just nurture your team's social responsibility trait. It can also inspire greater collaboration both inside and outside the workplace.

3. Track your journey. According to a study by the American Society of Training and Development, goals have a 65% chance of completion if they are stated to others. That number jumps to 95% if participants create a specific appointment to revisit their progress on the goal with another person in the future.

Last year, during the United Nations' General Assembly Week, there was a "time machine" in the lobby that asked participants to sign a contract with their younger selves. For me, the experience was quite powerful, because it allowed me to fully recall the dreams and passions I had at an early age and rededicate myself to realizing them.

Dedicated leaders can keep progress diaries for their employees with regard to their mental development regarding social responsibility, especially marking down the time when they had a particular epiphany regarding the work. Later on, that reminder will serve as a great tool for team members to see their own feedback. Much like a message in a school yearbook, those messages can rekindle fond feelings toward charitable efforts.

CSR extends far beyond the obvious benefits of helping others in need. In turn, that same outreach effort enriches those who do the work and lifts them to greater joy, productivity, and success — inside and outside the office.

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