Have Companies Forgotten the “Responsibility” of CSR?

Matthew Combs August 11, 2015 Employee Engagement

I’ve been in this space now for more than 8 years and have, in turn, been exposed to just about every interpretation and understanding of the definition and role Corporate Social Responsibility ( CSR) plays throughout the business world.  You’d think by now I would have run into a definition that I’d support and, as I tend to do, evangelize to others.  But I haven’t.  I’ve heard folks talk about CSR as a business obligation to support the communities in which they serve, to companies using such programs as a recruiting tool and retention of talent.  Some programs are defined by how many dollars are pledged to a community, while others focus on overall employee engagement.

I don’t disagree with any of these definitions.  As a matter of fact, I’m completely aligned with each of them.  But for me, and perhaps for a gross overgeneralization of the entire business world, defining Corporate Social Responsibility starts with what the company is willing to do – above and beyond what can be achieved by the employee independently – that will foster, encourage, and support employees to make a positive difference in our world, be it philanthropically or otherwise.

As millennials and their respective mindsets continue to take over today’s workforce, the ability for a company to piggyback off the generosity of their employees to enhance their own reputations within the company is decreasing.  Millennials are seeking a two-way relationship with their employers, whereby both the employers’ support and the employee’s generosity come together to create a difference greater than what could have been achieved independently.  Anything less just isn’t worth it.

Employees, or any individual with access to the internet for that matter, now have options for making a difference that are efficient, expansive, customized, and completely aligned with the employee’s personal interest.  Employees are able to be selective as to where their time and dollars are going, and they are far more educated now as to the impact and efficiency of their personal currency.  Consequently, employees require an understanding as to why the corporate ”alternative” of giving and volunteering is better than what is currently available to them on their own.

For employers, the challenge lies in the fulfillment of the obligation being demanded of today’s generation of employees.   It’s about answering the question of what the company is doing for employees that is beyond what they are able to get anywhere else.  It’s proving to the employee that the company is willing to support the employee at a level that is truly viewed as a benefit above and beyond the status quo.

Too often, and more typical with older programs, I witness the failure of the company to see, understand, and deliver on the shifting expectations of the employee and accept the responsibility that millennials (and all those with whom they influence) expect.  Today’s definition – and the definition I am willing to predict for the next decade at least –  of CSR has “responsibility” being defined by the level of support given to employees beyond the standard market offering.  It’s about ensuring that an employee’s contribution to making the world a better place is the most efficient by way of corporate programs, versus doing it outside the enterprise.

I guess what I’m saying is pretty simple.  The companies that will resonate most/best with the younger generation that is increasingly dominating the workforce will understand how to best define what ”responsibility” means within the CSR equation – and that it’s not so much about a responsibility to the non-profit world, but rather a responsibility to their employees and the non-profits that matter most to them.  Failure to truly grasp this, in my belief, will result in unnecessary window dressing and program facades that carry very little meaning and value, both to customers and employees alike.