Described as the "moral face of globalisation," corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives focused on solving societal and environmental concerns are increasingly expected by society, especially younger generations.
These judgments are so powerful that they affect employees’ characterisations of the organisation as a whole.
Specifically, when employees judge their organisations’ engagement in CSR as authentic, they tend to describe it as a “giver.” Employees see these organisations as being driven by values such as helpfulness and compassion.
In contrast, when CSR is judged as inauthentic and self-serving, employees tend to characterise the organisation as a “taker.” Employees of these organisations are more likely to see them as being driven by a focus on dominance and doing better than competitors. Employees trust organisations that engage in genuine CSR but distrust those that engage in greenwashing.
Specifically, we focused on important employee attitudes and performance at work, and sought to understand the underlying mechanism leading to employees’ positive reactions to CSR judged as authentic only. We also looked at whether the importance employees attach to CSR explains these findings (spoiler alert: it doesn’t, really). We instead found that employees’ judgments of the motives underlying CSR initiatives explain important workplace outcomes.
We found that how employees feel about their companies’ CSR initiatives has an influence on important workplace attitudes, including trust in top management, pride in the organisation, job satisfaction and the meaning they ascribe to their work in a positive way.
Their perceptions were also related to job performance, including whether employees focused on doing well on tasks, going out of their way to help others or not engaging in behaviours that were counterproductive and detrimental to the organisation. This behaviour was only present when CSR initiatives were judged as genuine.
We found that when employees view their organisations as engaging in CSR for genuine reasons, they feel that they work in a place that is compatible with their values and shares their goals. We call this type of compatibility person-organisation fit.
Employees care about authenticity
Organisations should pay attention to our results.
In fact, we found positive outcomes resulted from genuine CSR and negative outcomes stemmed from greenwashing, regardless of whether employees personally cared about CSR.
We expected employees who find organisational engagement in CSR to be important would react positively and strongly when judging their organisation as genuine in their efforts, and negatively when not. But we were surprised to find similar results when employees did not attach high importance to CSR.
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About the author
Magda B.L. Donia, associate professor, Telfer School of Management, L'Université d'Ottawa/University of Ottawa
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