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“We do that.” That’s answer a successful CEO is likely to give when asked about the company’s social responsibility (CSR) program. “We have a foundation and an employee matching gifts program. And we recycle.”

That answer might have worked five years ago. But that answer won’t work today. That’s because consumer and employee demand for CSR is climbing, steadily and rapidly. And it goes way beyond a company’s gifts to charity and its commitment to the environment. Social responsibility is a lifestyle. And not just at home, but in the workplace, too. The reality is that employers are not keeping up with employees. Employers are not offering the social responsibility programs that employees want. Consider that the average employee participation in a corporate matching gifts program, one of the most popular CSR tools, is just seven percent!

What can an employer do?

Awareness is the first step. A company must recognize that social responsibility is a lifestyle trend to be taken seriously. Employers must gain awareness of how employees perceive and define social responsibility in their personal lives so that these concepts can be translated to the workplace, increasing the chances of employee engagement in the company’s social responsibility program.

For example, individuals and families often point to 10 elements when asked to describe how they define social responsibility and doing good for themselves and their families:

  • Giving monetary donations to nonprofits
  • Volunteering time to a favorite cause
  • Recycling and respecting the environment
  • Serving on a community board or committee
  • Celebrating by attending charity events
  • Marketing, by promoting a favorite cause
  • Purchasing products and services that include a charitable element
  • Donating necessities to those in need, such as canned goods or used clothing
  • Sharing with others, such as a struggling neighbor or a family in need
  • Caring for yourself, focusing on professional development, wellness, fitness and self-worth

The key is for a company to define its social responsibility program in a way that resonates in the personal lives of its employees, matching, as closely as possible, each employee's own definition of a socially responsible lifestyle. If a program does not resonate, a program will fail to engage. And if a program fails to engage, employees are at risk.

Companies need to pay attention to the market trends in social responsibility. Philanthropy, the total amount Americans give to charity each year, is roughly 2% of GDP, and more than 90% of Americans give to charity each year. Consumers want social responsibility. In the products they buy. In the services they use. In the places they work. In fact, 83 percent of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits if it can help make tomorrow’s world a better place to live.

Women are particularly focused on social responsibility. A staggering 95.5% of female heads of households who earn more than $103,000 annually routinely give to charity, compared with 75.8% of men with the same income. The average annual giving by these women is $1,910 and only $984 by the men. Women are determined to engage themselves and their families in philanthropy in practical, fun and meaningful ways that reinforce the many roles they play as women, including consumer and employee.