Corporate Social Responsibility Can Improve Job Performance for Frontline Employees

Companies looking to engage their frontline workforce can leverage their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. New research shows when and how CSR can improve the job performance of frontline employees. 

Companies rely on frontline employees − salespeople, customer service representatives, account managers, and the like − to serve customers profitably. Yet, these employees often feel disconnected from both the company they work for and the customers they are expected to serve.

New research in the May 2014 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing shows that employee engagement in CSR activities such as environmental initiatives, charitable giving, and ethical business practices, can improve job performance. More than 200 employees at a Global 500 financial services company took part in the study, which matched employee surveys with supervisor ratings of job performance. The study is authored by Daniel Korschun of Drexel University, CB Bhattacharya of the ESMT European School of Management and Technology, and Scott D. Swain of Clemson University.

“We find that CSR has a tangible impact on job performance and that performance improvements occur because frontline employees feel closer to both customers and the company.” said Korschun. Frontline employees face a natural tension, with customers on one side and the company on the other. CSR can help frontline employees reconcile this tension by highlighting what the employee shares in common with both customers and the company.

“Employees told us that CSR can be an ice breaker in conversations with customers,” said Korschun, “and once they find out that a customer shares a passion for social or environmental causes, it creates a bond that is highly motivating.” Likewise, when an employee believes support for CSR comes from every level of management, the employee may sense that the company shares values like caring and altruism.

To reap the potential rewards of CSR, the authors recommend that managers encourage employees to talk about and develop shared experiences with customers around the company’s CSR activities. They cite examples of novel programs at companies such as CISCO, Starbuck’s, and SAP which have experimented with joint volunteering programs that bring customers and employees to the same site. They also recommend that upper management take a visible role in enacting CSR.

“This is yet more evidence that companies can generate substantial return on CSR investment,” says Bhattacharya, “but they need to manage it wisely.”
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