How to Start a Corporate Social Responsibility Program

More and more companies are beginning to take notice of the importance of social responsibility today, and are realizing how much it matters to both their employees and customers. While many larger companies do offer some form of corporate giving or philanthropy, many organizations still don’t have a formal program in place, and lack any kind of employee-led initiatives.

If your organization doesn’t provide any formal opportunities for volunteering or charitable giving, have you ever thought about taking the initiative to start a program yourself? Some of the best corporate programs were originally started by an employee who wanted to make a difference.

What is corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) allows businesses large and small to enact positive change. When companies practice CSR, they’re contributing positively to society and their inititiaives often includes an economic, social, and/or environmental component. Companies practicing CSR consider their impact on people, the planet, and their purpose.

There are four main types of CSR programs:

  1. Supporting volunteer efforts
  2. Philanthropy
  3. Environmental conservation
  4. Company diversity and labor practices

The benefits of corporate social responsibility

The point of CSR is to make an impact on the communities and people a company serves and to build a better tomorrow. But there also are some profit-driven reasons companies embrace CSR:

  • Recruiting and retaining talent. Establishing a CSR program helps organizations attract and retain the best talent globally. In fact, 76% of millennials (the largest employee group today) consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. 
  • Customer loyalty. Socially conscious companies often see higher levels of customer loyalty. Research shows that 68% of global consumers will remain loyal to a brand that practices social responsibility.
  • Revenue. People will pay more if a company is socially responsible. 73% of millennial consumers are willing to spend more on a product or service if it comes from a sustainable brand, and 87% say they’d purchase a product because the company advocated for an issue they care about. 

Building a corporate giving or volunteer program

While you may have little control over your company’s carbon footprint or hiring practices, you can participate in or even spearhead charitable giving or volunteering programs within your organization.

Choose initiatives that align with your mission & values

One way to identify opportunities for your company’s CSR program is to explore opportunities relevant to your mission. There are many worthy causes out there to support, but the more you can align your initiative with what the company already does well or particular skills your group has, the more impact you can make and the more likely the team will be to jump onboard.

Find causes that matter to your customers or members

According to a Cone Communications CSR Study, 87% of consumers would choose to purchase a product from a company that supports a social or environmental issue they care about. If there are certain causes your customers or community seem more drawn to, consider those as you evaluate different opportunities for your program.

Impact your local community

Every community has organizations working hard to make a difference. Consider supporting causes in the communties where your team lives and works. Your local United Way can be a good place to start to find volunteering opportunities in your area. 

Growing and promoting your CSR program

Chances are, you’re already pretty busy with your day job, so unless your full-time gig revolves around developing a CSR program, you probaby don’t have a ton of time to commit. That’s okay! Every little bit of effort helps and you’re not going to develop a robust initiative overnight. Start small and shoot for steady growth. What matters most is getting buy-in from others in the company and getting more people involved with the cause.

Get support from leadership 

Getting executive support from your CEO or other company leader can make or break your efforts. Without their support it can be more difficult to get funding or resources for your initiatives. But with a champion from the top ranks of the organization, you’ll see greater momentum and be more likely to get the financial support you need.

Generate buzz within the company

Communication is key to getting your CSR initiative going. Align your messaging with the company culture and get the team involved. You can use internal communication tools like Slack or Teams to generate buzz. Get friendly with your company’s social media manager as well, so you can leverage the corporate social channels to promote events and other things happening. 

Help people connect with the cause

Your teammates will be more likely to get excited about your program if they know more about the cause(s) they’re supporting. If you’re able to, have a representative from the organization you’re looking to support come and talk to your team. Have them share their mission and real stories about how they’re helping the community.

Interested in volunteer opportunities with AKPsi? Learn how you can get involved!

Finding Purpose and Engagement at Work

Most of us will spend about a third of our lives at work. (That’s literally thousands of Monday mornings.) So being engaged and passionate about what we do can really impact our quality of life. 

Your ideal job should give you a feeling of purpose and allow you to engage in interesting work with people you like (or can at least tolerate) and bosses that respect you and treat you well. If one or more of those factors aren’t hitting the mark, you could be at risk for disengagement.

The employee experience

According to Gallup, the employee experience is the journey you take with an organization and how you experience your workplace. There are three main stages that capture the day-to-day experiences of employees:

 

  1. Employee engagement
  2. Performance
  3. Development

 

All the interactions you have with your employer, from the day you’re hired to the day you leave are part of your experience as an employee. This includes tangible things like the tools or technologies you use, and the intangible, like how you feel about the company’s purpose or the relationship between you and your manager. All of these things impact your engagement, how well you perform at your job, and your professional development.

Employee engagement 

We know it’s one of the three main factors that make up the employee experience, but what does it mean to be an engaged employee? How do you know if you’re engaged?

Quantum Workplace defines employee engagement as “the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization” — it’s essentially how an employee feels about their work and their organization. Engaged employees are more productive, stay at their companies longer, and motivate the people around them. 

Gallup says, “an engaged employee shows up physically, emotionally, and cognitively. They are enthusiastic about what they have to do, and they naturally find ways to improve performance and excel. In short, engaged employees generate most of the creativity, innovation, and excellence in your organization.”

Performance

Employee engagement’s cousin-that’s-almost-like-a-sibling is performance, another key ingredient to employee experience. Quantum workplace found that 92% of business execs believe engaged employees perform better and create better outcomes for their businesses.

Think of performance as a key metric for engagement — the more engaged you are, the better your job performance will be. It’s what you’re judged on and what your employer will evaluate as they consider you for promotions or raises. 

But while most people want to perform at their best, it’s not just up to the employee to magically become a high performer. Employers need to provide the resources, environment, and motivation that enable people to do their best work.

Development

One of the main factors involved in motivating and equipping individuals to perform at a high level is professional development. Learning and growing is an important piece of the employee engagement puzzle. Most (but not all) people desire some level of personal or professional development in their careers. 

Even if you’re not interested in climbing the corporate ladder or pursuing a new career path, you probably still want to grow as a person and learn new skills or flex different cognitive muscles at work. Some of these opportunities you’ll have to seek out on your own, but an organization with leaders who care about their employees’ professional development will help you find those opportunities and give you the freedom to try new things — even if that means you’ll eventually outgrow your current job responsibilities.

Mission & purpose

Countless studies have concluded that there are some things that matter more to employees than just making money. One of those factors — particularly for millennials, today’s largest segment of employees — is a company’s mission and values. 

Many of us want to work for an organization that has a clear mission that aligns with our own personal values. We want to be inspired to do our best work, and know we’re contributing to a cause greater than ourselves.

According to Gallup, these feelings directly affect employee engagement, retention, performance, and development. Their research shows that one-third of employees strongly agree that the mission and purpose of their organization makes them feel that their job is important. They also found that companies with an increased focus on mission and purpose have seen a 51% reduction in absenteeism, a 64% drop in safety incidents, and a 29% improvement in quality of work.

Take control of your engagement 

If you’re feeling a lack of motivation or interest in your work, you might be disengaged. Sometimes these feelings come and go, but sometimes, they can be indicators of something more serious, like employee burnout

Career expert Mary Ellen Slayter shared some tips with Monster.com for pulling yourself out of a disengagement slump:

 

See the bigger picture. Connect yourself and your job to the larger organization. Think about how the work you’re doing fits into the greater mission of the company and refocus yourself around what matters.

Take a break. Disengagement can be your body’s way of telling you it’s time for a break. Take a vacation or even one day off to recharge your batteries.

Change up your routine. This is a big one, especially coming out of the pandemic. Your disengagement could be rooted in boredom, so learn a new skill or raise your hand for a different type of project that gets your creative juices flowing. 

Consider mentoring. Get reinvigorated in your work by sharing your knowledge and skills with others. (Or, find a mentor for yourself to help inspire you.) Read our checklist for finding or becoming a great mentor.

Speak up. When something’s bothering you at work, address it head on rather than letting it stew. Not addressing problems and giving candid feedback to others when needed can lead to resentment, and eventually, disengagement.  

Look elsewhere. If you’ve tried all these tactics and still feel disengaged at work, it might be time to think about a change. If your needs aren’t being met where you’re at, you might find a better, more engaging employee experience somewhere else.

Get involved with Alpha Kappa Psi

Check out our volunteer opportunities or take advantage of our leadership development resources and tools to become a more effective, informed, and engaged business professional. 

Preparing for the Future of Work

Over the last few decades, the way people work has been evolving and changing, fueled by technological advancements in automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and innovations around the way we receive goods and services — all of which has only been accelerated by the pandemic.  

These new innovations have forced companies to rethink the way they operate and how they structure their work, creating new opportunities for some, and unfortunately, eliminating jobs for others. 

While change can be messy (and often frustrating when you’re in the thick of it), it can also lead to exciting new opportunities and personal growth. It’s up to today’s business leaders to focus on getting people the education and training they need for this new future of work, and it’s up to all of us to keep learning and developing new skills so we can meet the moment.

Disruptions & trends

According to research by McKinsey & Company, three major trends are currently disrupting work as we know it:

 

  1. The shift to remote work and virtual collaboration. Most companies are planning to continue some level of remote work or move to a hybrid model. Additionally, McKinsey estimates that 20% of business travel may be permanently replaced by virtual meetings.
  2. Digital transactions and delivery services. Digital trends in e-commerce and service businesses — from restaurant delivery to telemedicine — surged in 2020, and it looks as though these conveniences will be sticking around.
  3. Automation and AI. Companies using new and more advanced technologies to adapt to the future of work will continue to innovate and implement even more technologies in the future.

Moving from urban to suburban 

Another trend in the United States and Europe that McKinsey identified is that a significant number of working professionals are moving out of large cities and putting down roots in suburbs and small towns. This is showing up in office-vacancy rates and decreasing residential rents — which reverses a trend that has been going in the exact opposite direction over the past ten years. It seems people are taking advantage of the ability to work remotely while enjoying the more affordable small-town life. (Or maybe, they just want to see what John Mellencamp’s been singing about all these years.)

Healthcare & STEM job market growth

With more of the baby boomer generation now entering retirement age, it’s no surprise that the need for healthcare workers continues to grow. STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are also part of a growing category, especially for jobs in design and technology maintenance. These are all excellent fields to pursue for anyone looking for a lucrative career that offers plenty of job security.  

Industries in decline

McKinsey found that the job categories most in decline are customer service and sales professions. Factory and warehouse jobs are also disappearing, as advancements in automation continue to eliminate tasks that used to be done by humans. 

Food service is another industry seeing a significant decline in demand, due in large part to the pandemic. People not going into the office are eating at home more and the decrease in business travel means fewer meals on the road — which is a big driver of business for many restaurants, especially in metro areas. 

Leading through change

Changing workplace conditions, the emergence of new processes and innovations, and the evolution of industry in our country are all converging to create completely new fields and new skill-set needs. The successful business leaders of today (and tomorrow) must be prepared to lead us into this new future of work.

Today’s business leaders must learn how to navigate unpredictable and often turbulent waters. As Jeff Schwartz, the U.S. Leader for the Future of Work at Deloitte Consulting, writes: “Like a whitewater kayaker, business leaders must learn to skillfully read the currents and disturbances of the context around them… interpreting the surface flows, ripples, and rapids for what they reveal about what lies beneath the surface.”

Key mindset shifts for business leaders

According to Schwartz, creating value and moving beyond cost reduction and efficiency to instead focus on meaning and impact should be the main goal for organizations today. He recommends leaders:

  • Make work outcomes less about efficiency and more about the value and impact delivered to customers, employees, and their communities.
  • Redefine work from executing routine tasks to creatively addressing problems and identifying new growth opportunities.
  • Build personal relationships and cultivate work that emphasizes what makes us human.
  • Focus on output and impact, rather than just workflows and tactics. 
  • Normalize a culture that embraces outside-the-box thinking and risk-taking.

Upskilling & reskilling

In their study, McKinsey found that 25% more workers than previously estimated may need to switch occupations, as the need for certain skills disappear and the need for new and different skills emerge. And according to the World Economic Forum (the Forum), nearly 50% of companies expect automation will lead to some reduction in their full-time workforce, and more than half of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. 

Being forced to make a career change or learn new skills can be frustrating or intimidating for some — especially those who have been doing the same job for years. Luckily, many large employers are creating upward career paths in the form of manager or digital training, to keep employees from getting left behind. Educational institutions and governments can also step in to provide programs for upskilling and reskilling workers. 

The Forum has developed a “Preparing for the Future of Work” initiative aimed at promoting “a positive and proactive approach to navigating the future employment and skills landscape.” With this program, they’re focused on bringing together businesses, civil society, and education partners to develop reskilling and upskilling initiatives — building new talent pipelines and providing better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people by 2030.

Unlock the next level

Whether your job is at risk of disruption or you just want to learn a new skill, there are resources available for all kinds of training and upskilling programs. The Aspen Institute’s Upskill America website has many helpful resources for business leaders and anyone who wants to learn more about upskilling and the types of programs that different companies offer. 

For individuals looking to develop a new skill — or sharpen an existing one — there are also several online learning platforms (some free and some that require a paid subscription) that cater to a wide variety of disciplines, like Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare.

5 Professional Development Books to Read This Summer

Summer is in full swing, and whether you’re planning to do some traveling or just spend time relaxing at home, there’s nothing like a good book to keep you company. If it’s a book that might also provide some professional guidance or personal inspiration, even better. 

We recently shared 5 Great Business Podcasts for Your Summer Vacation, so now, let’s get into a little something for the readers out there. (Most of these books come in an audio version, so you could still pop on those headphones if that’s more your speed.) So whether you’re laying by the pool, sitting out on your deck with the squirrels, or pretending to pay attention at your kid’s next soccer game, here are five (not-boring) professional development books to check out.

 

#1) Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown has written over a dozen bestselling books based on her studies of the emotions and experiences that give meaning to our lives, both personally and professionally. Her most recent book, Dare to Lead, digs deep into what leadership truly means. (Spoiler: It’s not about title, status, or power; it’s about empathy and courage.)

According to Brown, daring leaders don’t pretend to have all the right answers and don’t avoid difficult conversations. Instead, they lean into vulnerability and empower others to do the same.

(Dare to Lead is now also a podcast, for all you audiophiles.)

 

#2) Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture by Amber Cabral

As present and future business leaders, we should all be thinking about how to create and influence more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Author Amber Cabral is an inclusion strategist and thought leader, who teaches individuals and teams how to build meaningful connections with people across diverse backgrounds and identities.  

The best thing about this book is Cabral’s straightforward and approachable style; she shares real examples of inclusion best practices and provides helpful takeaways and action items you can really implement at work or any (and every) area of your life, as you learn to become a stronger ally and advocate.

 

#3) The First-Time Manager by Jim McCormick

Now in its 7th edition, this book has become a classic, must-read manual for anyone new to a management role or considering a path to management in the future. Even for individuals who are the best-of-the-best in their field, managing people adds its own host of challenges and can require an entirely new set of skills. 

The First-Time Manager dives deep into the art of motivating others, becoming an active listener, and overcoming resistance, along with many others skills that are essential to great leadership. McCormick’s lessons throughout the book also include helpful examples and action steps, to help you become the best manager you can be. (You’ll be getting that “World’s Best Boss” mug in no time.)

 

#4) Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

While not a professional development book per se, this autobiographical account of Elon Musk’s life and career is sure to hold your interest — and perhaps make you think a little differently about your own goals and ambitions. Love him or hate him, you can’t say there’s anything boring about this brilliant (and sometimes bizarre) tech billionaire.

Written by veteran tech journalist Ashlee Vance, this book gives you a deep look into the past, present, and future vision of the entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX. From his childhood in South Africa to selling PayPal for $1.5 billion to launching rockets into space, this book explores what motivates Musk and how he hopes to (continue to) change the world.

 

#5) Atomic Habits by James Clear

We’ve all got a few bad habits we’d like to break — no judgment. Luckily, help is out there in the form of James Clear’s bestselling book. Clear is a leading expert on habit formation, and in Atomic Habits, he reveals practical strategies for forming good habits and breaking bad ones.

He shares his system for change, informed by biology, psychology, and neuroscience. The book helps you understand how actions become habits and acts as a guide to making good habits a regular part of your life. With true stories from Olympians, artists, and other professionals at the top of their game, this book is sure to inspire you and give you the tools to develop better habits, personally and professionally. 

Taking Care of Your Mental Health at Work

While workplace stress is nothing new, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it for all types of workers. From the added stress of working from home (and now for some, anxiety around returning to the office again) to the millions of essential workers who had to put their own health at risk during the pandemic — everyone has been impacted in some way and to varying degrees. If there is one silver lining though, it’s that these challenges have brought mental health to the forefront of the national conversation and shone a light on existing problems.

A recent Household Pulse Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 37% of people surveyed reported feeling anxious or depressed. (That number was just 11% in 2019.) On top of that, in their 2021 report: Mind the Workplace, Mental Health America (MHA) found that nearly 9 out of 10 employees report workplace stress that impacts their mental health.

Overcoming burnout

Burnout had become a hot topic of conversation long before the events of 2020, and has become even more prevalent over the last year. In their survey, MHA found that nearly 83% of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work, and nearly 1 in 4 employees experienced severe signs of burnout, including reduced professional efficacy and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has even added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases. According to the WHO, burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, and is characterized by three dimensions: 

 

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Reduced professional efficacy
  3. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

 

Aside from factors related specifically to the pandemic, other common factors that contribute to burnout include overwhelming workload, long working hours, staff shortages, an aggressive environment, and lack of support from management. If left unaddressed, burnout can cause lower productivity and quality of work, job dissatisfaction, low organizational commitment, absenteeism, and ultimately, turnover. 

While any employee in any company can experience burnout, there are some jobs that are at higher risk. Even pre-pandemic, employees in the medical field were at higher risk for mental health challenges. A 2019 study by Medscape found that 44% of physicians reported feeling burned out. Many physicians pointed to long hours and increased administrative tasks as a major source of burnout. One family physician even said, “All that paperwork sucks all of the enjoyment out of being a doctor.”

People in other types of high-pressure jobs, like sales, are also at risk of burnout and other mental health challenges. According to Sales Health Alliance, dealing with constant worries about hitting sales goals and dealing with constant rejection can make the sales environment a very difficult place to maintain mental well-being. Their latest survey of sales professionals showed that 43% struggle with their mental health.

Managing Zoom fatigue

For people working from home (and even many who don’t) video conferencing has become a huge part of our lives. While the ability to connect with colleagues, friends, and family members from the safety of our own homes has been invaluable in many ways, constant use of tools like Zoom has also caused very real mental health challenges for many.

Stanford communications professor Jeremy Bailenson recently shared with CNN Business the four causes of Zoom fatigue:

 

  1. ‘Fight or flight’ survival. A video call “smothers everyone with gaze,” so though your just staring at a camera, it simulates a confrontation and triggers your fight-or-flight instincts.

 

  1. Non-verbal internet cues. We’re not used to socializing in a virtual environment and our brains don’t know how to pick up non-verbal cues in the same way.

 

  1. Constant mirror and self-evaluation. The self-evaluation that happens when seeing yourself on video can make you stressed, and the effects are even worse for women. Bailenson mentions a study that shows long periods of self-focusing can “prime women to experience depression.”

 

  1. Stuck in the box. Zoom fatigue traps us in a box, which can limit our mental ability and cause our minds to act differently than when we’re able to move around.

 

Video conferencing may become less necessary as the world opens up, but it’s not likely to go away completely. But according to Bailenson, we’re not sentenced to Zoom fatigue and there are some things we can do to combat it.

“Collapse that self-image box so it’s out of view… it will be like a weight taken off your shoulders. Use an external webcam or opt for more phone call meetings — so you can get up and think out of that Zoom box,” he says.

Create boundaries and take mental breaks

Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, told NPR there are ways to spot the signs of burnout and regain some control. One of these ways is to tune into how you’re feeling at work each day.

“It can even be helpful to sort of note your mood throughout the day,” says Gold. “Like, ‘Every time I have a meeting with so-and-so, I feel horrible, and then every time I’m with this person or doing this thing, that’s where I find the most meaning.'”

Ron Friedman, author of the book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, tells Harvard Business Review that burnout often stems from a lack of understanding about what it takes to achieve peak workplace performance. “We tend to assume that it requires trying harder or outworking others,” he says, “which may get you short-term results but is physiologically unsustainable.” 

Friedman recommends taking regular breaks to restock your mental energy. “Take a walk or go for a run. Have lunch away from your desk. Stepping away from your computer gets you out of the weeds and prompts you to reexamine the big picture.”

Speak up and ask for help

As more people speak up and speak out about mental health, more employers are starting to pay attention. A 2020 Business Group on Health survey found that nearly half of large employers now train their managers to recognize mental health issues and an additional 18% plan to start in 2021. Plus, 54% of employers will offer free or low-cost virtual mental health visits this year. 

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of burnout or a more serious mental health condition, you are not alone and help is out there. Many employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP), that provides you with free resources, many of which include access to virtual counseling or therapy. You can also talk to your primary care doctor or ask them for a referral to a mental health professional. Or, you can search for qualified therapists in your area on the Psychology Today website.

Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are also available for help and guidance. (You can also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.)

To learn more about strategies for managing your mental health at work, you can also download Mental Health America’s Workplace Mental Health Employee Support Guide: https://mhanational.org/employeesupportguide.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide any clinical advice. It is only intended to provide general education and research around mental health in the workplace and provide links to available resources.