Why are CSR Programs Surging in Popularity?

I was preparing a presentation the other day for our company’s user conference on the benefits of CSR.  While looking through the research I was struck (once again) by how important a vibrant CSR program really is for a companies business and more importantly for maintaining their employees.  

I know, I know – I am paid to think this because I work for a company that creates software to enable companies to offer corporate social responsibility programs, but it really was much more than that! 

Like many of us, I have worn different hats and worked for different industries and companies and when I look back, I’m astonished at how much the workplace has changed; not only the technological advances that help us do our jobs but what we ourselves now ask from the companies we work for.  

I have a fascination in observing generations in the workplace and understanding what makes each age group unique – the events that have shaped them and the behavioral responses to those influences.  I believe the surge in the popularity of CSR programs has everything to do with the generation now assuming majority status in our companies. 

According to a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center, starting in 2016, Millennials aged 23 to 38 had become the majority of the workforce. Fifty-Six million Millennials are now working or looking for work, and understanding the characteristics of this generation is the key to appreciating why CSR has become so critical for employers trying to recruit this group of workers and consumers. 

So much has been written about this generation, and much of it false. There aren’t many detailed studies of Traditionalists, Boomers or Generation X when they were of the same age, so it's difficult to draw accurate conclusions. It is likely we can apply statements that declare Millennials as entitled and self-absorbed to those younger generations that came before them, and high turnover rates among younger workers is nothing new.  

While Millennials may have entered the workforce during a difficult economy, that is certainly not the case today.  Now, many Millennials can call the shots because of their in-demand technological skills, quick and flexible adaptation to software, social media prowess, and tight labor markets.  For many, they now have the luxury to choose when, where and how they work.  They are a valuable commodity and employers are fighting for them. But none of this explains what’s driving Millennials to demand authentic and meaningful CSR programs from their employers. So, what is it? 


I would argue the answer lies in their desire to have a purpose. Young people in the workforce today are more purpose-driven than any other generation before them, and to me, this is the biggest difference between the generations and the driving force behind CSR programs.  Millennials look for purpose and meaning in everything they set out to do, and they want their personal and professional life to reflect the same values. They won’t “turn-off” their values to work for a company that doesn’t share their own beliefs. They want to know how companies' actions contribute to changing the lives of people and the environment in a positive way.   


This generation was raised and taught that purpose in everything they set out to do is important. They have been volunteering, having birthday parties that double as fundraisers for charities and generally been involved in causes since grade school, and they have carried this into the workplace. 


And this trend won’t decline anytime soon. Research shows the generation following the Millennials, Gen Z, born after 1997 with the oldest now 22 in 2019 - and just entering the workforce, are even more passionate than Millennials about a purpose driven life and creating a lasting positive impact. 

This is not to say Millennials and Gen Z are entirely different from other generations.  A 2015 national study commissioned by CNBC  looking at the importance of six traits in a potential employer, including ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and brightest, found that Millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six traits. 

So, while the search for meaning and purpose at work may be intergenerational, I believe what’s changed is the willingness of younger generations to be so vocal about demanding it and having the technology and skills in place to pursue the kind of lifestyle they want and work for whomever they choose. Which brings us back to CSR programs. These are not nice to have programs, these are must-haves that help showcase a company's commitment and purpose to doing good, and they help you attract and retain the best and brightest employees.  

Many larger companies have known for some time the power of a strong CSR Program for attracting and keeping high-performance employees.  In an article published in the Harvard Business ReviewBob Moritz, the global Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) writes that “businesses need to create an environment that allows people to give back and excel both at the office and outside it”… and that “PwC sees greater retention and higher performance when people are engaged in corporate responsibility programs.” 

In fact, PwC found employees “who participated in more than one CSR activity had an average tenure of 7.4 years, while those who participated in none stayed with the organization an average of 6.3 years.”  Wow! 

Mark states PwC’ s Project Belize program, a multi-million dollar commitment to increasing the financial literacy of students found “only 8% of the staff members who participated in Project Belize left the firm in the subsequent year, compared with 16% of nonparticipants,” in the program.   

He goes onto to say, “PwC’s Millennials don’t only demand to know the organization’s purpose—its reason for being—but are prepared to leave the firm if that purpose doesn’t align with their own values.” 

I thought I would end the blog with the last sentence above, but as I was wrapping up the writing, Larry Fink, the CEO of Black Rock -the largest money management firm in the world - came on to my favorite morning business show and said this:  

“Since prospective employees are now more focused than ever before on the societal good that companies do - companies need to be more mindful in their business practices. The role of public companies and their leaders and boards have changed, and they need to have a stronger voice for social good. We need more conscientious capitalism. Society is frustrated that the government is doing less and want companies to do more.  In the long run, if you can attract better employees, that are more involved, you will achieve greater productivity and companies will see a positive effect on their margins. Over the long run, having more engaged employees and customers is good for business and society.  

Thank you, Larry, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves - even if we weren’t paid to do so! 








Posted by John Clese