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Stop! You’re Approaching Engagement Through CSR All Wrong

Submitted by: Liz Bardetti

Posted: Oct 24, 2016 – 06:00 AM EST

Tags: csr, employee engagement


Going beyond the employee engagement buzzwords, we find two engagement methods emerge: the transactional approach and the relational approach. Depending on the desired outcome, either can be used to combat disengagement. 

The transactional approach is most related to extrinsic motivation where engagement programs are created to meet the needs and interests of employees. CSR programs like employee volunteering and matching gifts, which is offered by 65% of Fortune 500 companies, are great examples of a transactional approach to employee engagement.

The employee gets to partake in an activity that represents the socially responsible efforts of their company, they get to give back to the community and feel good about themselves and they get a break from their work or earn rewards. The employer gets certain tax breaks and benefits, gets a more engaged, satisfied or happy employee and promotes a positive employer brand to job seekers. This is an exchange where both parties are operating out of their own interests, and the good news is … they both benefit!

The Transactional Approach

We see the transactional approach to employee engagement laid out time and time again, and this strategy developed by HR leaders within the company can return amazing results. A recent study showed that 90% of companies attribute a positive correlation between CSR programs and engagement levels. The positives: increased engagement, employer satisfaction, performance, employee morale, retention and more!

The flaw within this transactional approach that is often overlooked is that this exchange is substitutable making it not always a promising solution to disengagement. In addition, an overarching flaw within these CSR-focused employee engagement programs is that they are reactive to societal challenges.

The Relational Approach

To engage employees through intrinsic motivation, a relational approach to employee engagement must be sought after. The relational approach to employee engagement is when the organization and its employees make a commitment together that fosters engagement. In terms of CSR, this approach is possible when the employer and employee have shared interests and benefit communally.

Instead of asking what CSR can do for the employees, the question is “what can our employees do to make our company (and themselves) better corporate citizens?”

Why Take the Relational Route?

Because it creates a deeper level of engagement that resonates with employees to the core. The relational approach acknowledges employees as citizens of the company and community, and it does so by speaking to our human desire to make our world a better place. This approach can be compared to collective cultures we identify in the East, and the transactional approach portrays the individualistic culture we follow in the West. But as companies in the West continue to fight the disengagement problem, they need to be open to adopting a different approach in engagement programs, one that fosters a longer-term value proposition.

A perfect example is a company-wide day of service, a collective event that embraces employees in a shared mission. However, putting the “we” rather than the “me” at top of mind when building strategic philanthropy programs is easier said than done because our individualistic nature often subconsciously brings us back to the “me” without even knowing.

How Can Companies Reach the Relational Level

First and foremost, the relational model of employee engagement has shown to be attainable once CSR programs are fully developed from a transactional approach. 93% of the world’s largest 250 companies publish annual CSR reports, and corporate giving has grown to $17.8 billion last year.

Although corporate social responsibility is increasing, is employee engagement through these CSR programs increasing too? Whatever the case, the next transformative step to take is the relational approach and it’s possible once policies, programs and all CSR functions are aligned with business objectives.

Companies that are “committed to good employee relations and social responsibility because of their heritage, national origins, corporate culture, and manager’s moral sensibilities—factors that make engaging employees through CSR a more normative than material consideration,” will rise to the top of the relational approach success peak. So dig deep. 

After all, 1.6 million employees in 70 companies found that employees were more engaged if they believed their employers were interested in their well-being and believed in their employer’s commitments to social responsibility. Your employees can see through the facade of hidden corporate interests, and their engagement is depending on it.

It looks like we all have some soul-searching to do. What is your company doing to reach a relational level of engagement?

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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