Some years ago, I was traveling several hundred miles away from home on company business. At the end of a long day of events, I slipped away to a local styling salon for a much-needed hair cut. I was reclining in the salon chair, head tipped back into the sink, when I became aware of someone standing over me. This individual proceeded to ask me about one of my company’s recently-publicized events and wanted to get my take on what had happened.
After the conversation ended, I wondered how this person had known who my employer was. I chuckled to myself when I realized that my employee ID tag had been peeking out from beneath the plastic cape draped around me. The experience was a great reminder that, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, employees are always company ambassadors.
I was able to respond to the question asked of me that day because my company had regularly and thoroughly communicated about that issue to all its employees. We, the internal audience, hadn’t been a communicational afterthought, copied on an email (or worse, reading it in the news) only after the customers and the shareholders had already been informed.
This attention to employees is a key tenet of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As companies strive to help address social challenges, maintain sustainable environments and contribute to strong economies, employees need to be aware of and engaged in those efforts. When it comes to CSR, what employees don’t know really can hurt.
Employees expect — and need — to be a part of their companies’ CSR efforts. In fact, CSR can be a driver of employees’ job-acceptance decisions.
A 2003 survey of more than 800 MBAs from 11 leading North American and European schools, conducted by David B. Montgomery of Stanford and Catherine A. Ramus of UC Santa Barbara, made a startling discovery: more than 97 percent of the MBAs in the sample said they were willing to forgo financial benefits to work for an organization with a better reputation for corporate social responsibility and ethics.
How can companies more effectively involve their employees in CSR?
- Communicate with employees about CSR efforts — the progress, the successes and the challenges. In today’s fast-paced world of social media and instantaneous dissemination of news, companies often focus on defining what their workers should or should not say. And there are some good reasons for establishing such parameters, such as protection of confidential information or regulatory compliance. But at the same time, organizations that want engaged and committed employees should take an interest not only in what their employees say, but also in what they actually know. Good companies make a point of providing employees with all the information they need to do their jobs effectively. Acting as an organizational ambassador is a part of every employee’s job.
- Invite employee input about where the company directs its CSR efforts, and encourage direct participation in those efforts. CSR goals are more meaningful when employees can directly contribute to them and when those goals benefit communities and causes that they care about.
- Celebrate successes with employees along the way. Because CSR is a long-term process, it’s all too easy to neglect the importance of reporting accomplishments along the way. All stakeholders need regular communication about CSR goals — even small, incremental progress. And employees need to hear about that progress even more frequently. They also need to be recognized for their contributions, as they, of all stakeholders, have invested the most time, energy and commitment towards achieving those goals.
At some point, every employee will have an opportunity to fill the role of company ambassador. It may not happen at the hair salon, but it will happen. Their responses — and even more importantly, their personal support of their organization — may very well ride on whether they’ve been informed, involved and recognized.
Susan Walton, APR, serves on the PRSA Board of Directors and is the associate chair of the department of communications at Brigham Young University.