How to Engage Employees in Your CSR Process

How to Engage Employees in Your CSR Process

Engaging in a robust corporate social responsibility program has many benefits—it can improve your company’s reputation, allow tax write-offs, and even fulfill some federal regulatory requirements. That’s not all—CSR can also be a powerful tool to increase employee engagement, which many companies are in sore need of. Gallup reports that on average, only 33% of American employees are engaged in their work!

So how can you leverage CSR to increase employee engagement? Here are seven best practices.

1. Give them a voice.

The easiest step you can take to get employees engaged in your CSR efforts? Ask them what they care about! Employees that can give voice to what they are passionate are more engaged and even serve customers better, according to one study. In fact, employees tend to give to charities more themselves when they have a choice!

One word of caution, however—make sure that suggestions are implemented or at the very least responded to. When workers give input that is ignored, it can have a significant opposite effect, leading to cynical workers and further unengagement.

2. Pick a cause everyone can support.

Likely, not everyone at your company thinks the same way. You may have groups with different political perspectives, values, and priorities. While any cause you support has some potential for generating controversy, you can avoid any serious conflict by picking causes that are easy to communicate, compelling to most workers, and avoid the appearance of political bias. A good example of this is education, where supporting students and learning is generally supported by people from a broad variety of perspectives.

3. Give them time.

Many companies have found that giving employees a small amount of time to support a cause they care about can have an even greater impact on their engagement than financial contributions! In fact, over 60% of companies offer paid time off to employees to volunteer. This is a simple, cost-effective way to allow your employees to feel like they are making a difference—and encouraging them to become proud ambassadors for your brand.

4. Connect the company’s efforts to a personal story.

One of the most meaningful ways to engage anyone in a cause is through telling a personal story. If your employees can connect your CSR efforts to a face, they are much more likely to be engaged and passionate about the work you are doing. Take this example from when General Mills took Cheerios gluten-free. Rather than simply looking at it as a clever marketing positioning move, the company was able to connect the effort to the deeply touching story of engineer Phil Zietlow and his daughter-in-law Joyce. Phil wanted Joyce, who has Celiac’s disease, to be able to enjoy the product he worked so hard to produce. By telling Phil’s story, General Mills was able to connect their efforts to a person and further engage both internal and external stakeholders.

5. Integrate your efforts into the culture.

How do you make CSR a part of how your company does things? This can be challenging, particularly if you are a more formal, hierarchical organization. However, there are several important ways to integrate these efforts into your company culture.

A recent report by Gallup found that over one-third of workers place high-value on the reputation of a brand or company when searching for a job. They want a good culture fit at a place where they can be proud of what a company stands for. By placing your CSR efforts front and center, including them in your onboarding process, and repeating them in your communication, you can demonstrate to current and prospective workers that they can be proud to work for your company.


6. Report back.

Just like with employee suggestions, responding is critical. Make sure you report back to employees about the CSR efforts of the company. Share stories of those you’ve impacted, invite an employee of the nonprofit to come share, or send out a short informal video of your CEO thanking everyone for making that contribution possible. Numbers are important—they illustrate scale and significance—but stories are what will connect most deeply with your employees and help them draw the line between their day-to-day efforts and the good your company is making possible.

7. Make sure leadership owns the cause.

All of these efforts can be easily undermined if workers don’t see buy-in from top management. If leaders do not care about your CSR efforts or give off the impression that their support is coerced, it sends a message to your employees that giving back is not valued. That kind of hypocritical perception can drive up cynicism and lead to increased disengagement—leaving your company even worse off than it was before.

Make sure to get buy-in from all your leadership. Having leadership volunteer, appear at events, and personally mention and thank employees for their engagement with your CSR efforts will go a long way to helping your team get on the same page.

Overall, engaging your employees in CSR efforts requires your company to go “all-in.” Making the internal communications about your work a central part of your strategy will avoid many common pitfalls and deliver benefits beyond the obvious few.