Nudging Your Employees Toward Increased Engagement with CSR

2018-07-26

By Ankita Kochhar, MBA'19 of Georgetown McDonough School of Business

With the rapid advancement of technology, work has become deeply integrated with the “rest of our lives.”  We check emails on our phones, have access to our remote desktops, and so on. With the lack of a clear divide between work and home, there is a growing desire and need for companies that reflect our values and purpose.

Too often Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) teams exist in silos, and volunteering is considered outside the scope of work. It is considered a “good to do” but not essential part of work. Yet, we know why it is important to get involved – it creates a sense of purpose at work and helps you feel like a more integral part of the community.

Literature  demonstrates this: “…Most CSR studies demonstrate the positive relationship between CSR and organizational identification. Researchers propose that employees' perception about CSR and its subsequent outcomes are sensitive to their calling orientation (e.g., Glavas and Godwin, 2013), that is, the extent to which employees see their work as a ‘calling’ rather than merely a ‘job.’”

Yet when it comes down to it, despite our best intentions, we tend to focus on the bottom line, and our own deliverables. This is what behavioral psychologists refer to as the “intention-action” gap. Most people will get involved when it’s community service day and everyone else from the office is going so they are automatically opted into going. This by the way, is considered a nudge, the Behavioral Economic concept coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. People tend to “group think” or colloquially speaking, “follow the herd”. For instance, we ask restaurants what the most popular dish is and go with it. It offers a safe bet. Thaler points out that when people are asked to opt out versus opt in for decision making, institutions see dramatic increases in participation rates - few people will actually choose to opt out. Comparing Germany and Austria, two very similar countries for organ donation, Germany uses an opt in system, with 12% of the population enrolled as organ donors, whereas Austria uses the opt out system, with a 99% of the population signed up as organ donors.

Here are five easy ways you can nudge your employees to be more engaged with CSR efforts:

Make it easy

This is the pinnacle of nudge theory. Allow people to log their hours with ease. Perhaps either automatically sign everyone up for a certain number of volunteer hours a year, or make it a “mandatory choice”, getting people to make their own decision about when they sign up, but they have to click “No, I choose to not volunteer” to indicate that choice.

Incentivize them

Make those who volunteer feel proud of their accomplishments by having a “leadership board”.Perhaps include their volunteer accomplishments in their annual review.

Use the “group think” to your advantage

Use statistics like “85% of employees across all levels at our organization volunteer for at least 5 days a year, as compared with the national average of 15% at comparable organizations”. This is unbelievably powerful and allows people to feel a sense of belonging and responsibility.

Demonstrate Cause-Connection

Target the non-profits you work with. Find ones that match the company and employee values. People are more moved when they feel a connection to a cause, and when that cause is laid out for them in simple terms. Additionally, seeing the effects of the work they are doing is a very effective nudge: include pictures and hard statistics of the people that will benefit from the volunteer activity.

Sell the skill building

It is critical to demonstrate that the projects that are linked to CSR activity allow for personal and professional development – employees build their network outside of their teams, they get a break from their day to day, and they get to develop skills that can help them advance in their jobs. Someone can move to a totally different team based on the skills they learned on a volunteer project.

The reality is all of us like to feel like we’re doing good in our communities and affecting the world in a positive way. Both external and internal stakeholders identify better with an organization and feel a sense of pride once they truly understand what the organization’s CSR activities are.  As work and the rest of our lives continue to get intertwined, let’s create opportunities to have the maximum impact and allow our personal and professional values and purposes to truly align.