Never before has there been a greater concern for employee wellbeing and performance. Loss in workforce productivity has hit an all-time high since the start of the pandemic, with research from SHRM showing 40% of employees feeling burnt out. When asked about the main drivers of this productivity drought, employees often cite internal factors as main attributes to lower levels of motivation and morale.

The pandemic has made increasingly clear the need for companies to make greater investments in their workplace culture to enhance employee wellbeing and engagement. In this article, we explore how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) could be the much-needed solution to this increasingly pressing problem. Though it may be an unusual solution to restimulating workforce productivity, the science behind corporate giving could explain why it works.

Giving – a bottom-line advantage

You know the classic ‘help yourself by helping others’ saying? This may sound ‘woo-woo’ but it has concrete effects. Research highlights a positive correlation between charitable giving and individual levels of happiness. The simple act of giving releases mood boosting chemicals in the brain – serotonin (a mood mediating hormone), dopamine (a feel-good hormone), and oxytocin (a bonding hormone), triggering a natural response that immediately boosts the giver’s level of happiness. As a result, employees who commonly engage in philanthropic work tend to have lower stress levels and experience more mood-lifting behaviours, allowing them to perform better at work. The psychological results of benevolent acts are so profound that social psychologists have even put a name to this somewhat state of euphoria called the ‘helper’s high’.

Sounds too good to be true? In some ways, yes, it is. The psychological benefits of altruistic acts also depend on intrinsic motivations. It’s worth asking, what’s motivating your employees to volunteer? Is it from a position of altruism, interest in personal growth, or are they doing it simply to meet corporate responsibilities? Research shows that the stronger the level of self- motivation, the more likely employees are to experience the full psychological benefits of giving. It’s not just about the act itself, but about the intentions behind it. For corporations looking to optimise the benefits of a CSR program, implementing a regular practice of corporate giving is only the first step, it’s also giving your employees the flexibility to engage in social causes they care about. Doing so fosters an environment that allows employees to display their own individual value systems, leading them to engage in more productive behaviours. It’s this intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation that is significant in affecting employee wellbeing and performance.

Social purpose – an urgent business imperative

According to Harvard Business Review, engaged employees are 45% more productive than disengaged employees. However, those who have a profound sense of purpose in their work are 55% more productive than engaged employees. Why? Because involvement in what is perceived as a valued activity by society validates an individual’s self-worth and confidence, allowing them to feel desired and useful. When employees attach meaning to their work, it strengthens their sense of corporate identity and belonging. What’s more is that when there is a perceived alignment in values, employees find it psychologically safer to bring their true selves to work and therefore dedicate themselves more to the work they do. As a result, employees of prosocial organisations are more likely to enter a flow state characterised by greater engagement, productivity, and creativity. CSR signals contribution to a greater good and when catered to the morality-based needs of employees, it provides an additional source of workforce engagement.

Finally, before implementing a CSR program, it’s important to think about how it fits within the structure of the corporation. When philanthropic work is viewed as an extra-role activity in addition to one’s own job, it can have adverse effects leading to job interference. Alternatively, when CSR is embedded into a corporate’s core strategy, it becomes a form of psychological restoration that allows for greater employee engagement and performance. Instead of it being a job depletion, it becomes what sociologists call job absorption, a greater state of focus and attention in the workplace that may even allow employees to navigate the terrain of burnout from the pandemic. It’s one thing to build a culture of corporative giving, it’s another to build the foundations of this culture right. But when firm-level efforts are dedicated to doing so, they are able to optimise employee wellbeing, productivity and performance, allowing corporations to in some ways, experience their own serotonin boost.


Katherine Page 

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