Corporate Social Responsibility: The Paradox of High Demand and Low Engagement

In 2022, many companies have felt the pressure to engage in some sort of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Gone are the days where a company was viewed as an entity whose sole purpose was to be profitable. The current climate encourages companies to think of themselves as stakeholders in their communities with the power to make great impact. Companies feel this pressure to do good from all angles, such as from the government, the public, investors, as well as employees. With this pressure, CSR was born.


Engaging in CSR activities allows companies to outline the causes and projects they are passionate about, and how they are working to make a difference in those areas. Most companies today participate in some sort of community engagement or corporate volunteer events to work toward achieving their CSR goals. However, sometimes these activities are not well received by employees.


Low participation rates by employees.

In a recent study done by the Chief Executive’s for Corporate Purpose (CECP), their Giving in Numbers Report found that 89% of surveyed companies had an employee volunteering program, yet the participation rate in such programs hovered around 17%. This highlights just how low employee engagement with CSR programs is, which creates challenges for companies to achieve their CSR goals. This is an unfortunate statistic, as employee volunteering has clear benefits in the workplace like boosting productivity, increasing engagement, and improved hiring and retention. [1]


Younger employees tend to feel passionate about CSR efforts.

A study showed that 64% of millennials reported they would turn down a job if their employer does not have a strong CSR policy and 83% of millennials would be more loyal to a company that helped contribute to social and environmental issues. [2]


If CSR and corporate volunteering are so important to employees, then why is the turnout and participation rate in such programs so low?


A recent report by Deloitte found that the answer is twofold: there is a conceptual barrier and an operational barrier. The conceptual barrier stems from the idea that employees view volunteering through a transactional lens, instead of a purpose-driven, transformational lens. The operational barrier is born out of the difficulties companies face in managing competing priorities, opportunities, and resources.[3]


The report offers some tips to overcome these barriers include empowering employees, reducing anxiety regarding logistics, discussing the “why”, embracing complexity and connection, and finding tools that will help engage and motivate employees.


CSR is an important part of company culture that employees value more than ever before. Despite hesitations and low participation rates, employees of all demographics expect their companies to do good in their community and give back when possible. Although there are often barriers to participation, employers can mitigate anxieties in key ways to boost attendance. There is a wide array of benefits that CSR provides to both employees and employers, and as younger generations enter the workforce, corporate social efforts are bound to become more important than ever. If your company is looking to improve morale, boost team bonding, and make a greater impact outside your area of business, consider bolstering your CSR efforts.


Katherine Posniak, MBA