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Using Corporate Social Responsibility to Win the War for Talent

As the war for talent intensifies, there is growing evidence that a company’s corporate social responsibility activities comprise a legitimate and compelling way to attract and retain good employees. To burnish their social responsibility credentials and thereby attract and retain talent, CEOs of companies such as Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and SAP recently pledged to deploy millions of employee volunteers on various community projects. Indeed, many companies big and small, including Cisco Systems, General Electric and IBM, view employee engagement in CSR as a “strategic imperative.”

But few organizations have figured out how to use CSR properly as part of their employee engagement efforts. They fall short of communicating their CSR intentions and initiatives to their employees and tend to keep CSR decisions in the hands of senior managers. At the same time, they fail to understand which CSR initiatives work best to excite which groups of employees. All in all, they fail to capture CSR’s considerable potential to help them fight the war for talent. When used properly, CSR can strengthen employees’ engagement by creating the feeling that they are part of a larger corporate mission and that the company shares their values, and by helping them enhance their own social connections.

This article draws on recent studies to confirm that CSR can yield substantial returns for both employees and the company. The research demonstrates that CSR initiatives can fulfill employees’ needs and motivate them to identify strongly with their employers, as is very much the case at The Timberland Co. Using frequent verbatims from study participants, the article portrays the challenges that companies face in making the most of their CSR strategies internally. The authors then recommend five practical steps that can help business leaders increase CSR’s effectiveness as a lever for talent management, acquisition, and retention.

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