Millennials now outnumber any other generation in the workforce and by 2020 they’ll comprise more than half the total workforce. And unlike many of their predecessors they are motivated more by improving the world around them than work prestige or big money jobs. According to a study by Bentley University, 84% of millennials said that making a positive difference in the world was more important than professional recognition.

But where does that leave businesses trying to attract and retain the top talent? If monetary reward and professional recognition don’t work as incentives, what will?

What incentives work?

The answer: Corporate Social (and Environmental) Responsibility (CSR).

Until the automated robot utopia of our dreams arrives, we all need to work to live. The idea that you can change the system from the inside seems to have died with the financial crash, yet millennials understand that they can use their economic power to encourage companies to make a positive contribution to the world around them. The Millennial Impact Report found that more than half of millennials have been inspired to work long-term for a company whose mission it is to change the world.

This has already seen a sea change in the way companies present themselves and has led to a reduction of wasteful activities like excess printing. But companies need to look broader than efficiency savings – they need to demonstrate a commitment to improving the world. This will shift CSR into the foreground and make it a key issue for all businesses in the next few years. The PwC Global CEO Survey shows that 64% of companies are making CSR ‘core’ to their business. Yet only 29% of companies focus on their reputation for CSR in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Companies that demonstrate long-term commitment, putting in place good processes and platforms for managing CSR, will outperform others in terms of talent acquisition and retention, productivity, and sales.

Attracting Top Talent

According to a Project ROI Report, 76% of Americans wouldn’t take a job with a company that had a bad reputation even if they were unemployed. This emphasises the importance of a good reputation for CSR, with 45% of millennials saying they would take a pay cut to work for a company that makes a positive social or environmental impact.

You won’t get passionate people who believe in your company by throwing more money at them. You need to demonstrate that you are committed to making that positive impact, that it’s a core part of how you operate. Be vocal about the work you do, the opportunities you offer employees, and the systems and policies you have in place that demonstrate your commitment to CSR. Include a section in recruiter profiles and make sure you talk about your CSR work during interviews.

The same report also found that CSR reduced employee turnover by 25-50% – the same effect as a $3,700 pay rise per year. This saves recruitment costs of 90-200% of an employee’s annual salary. So, CSR not only helps attract top talent, it helps retain it too.

Improving Productivity

As Simon Sinek has pointed out, people are more motivated by why companies and people do what they do than what or how they do it. This is useful from a branding perspective, but it transfers into the daily running of your business, too.

Despite fears that CSR takes time away from the actual work of a company, CSR programmes have been shown to improve productivity by around 13%, according to Project ROI.

The challenge for employers is finding a way of effectively managing CSR. Dedicating too much time and attention to CSR can be a distraction and wipe out all the productivity gains, too little time and CSR slips from the agenda. Some larger companies are recruiting CSR Directors to manage their environmental impact, charitable giving, and employee volunteer programmes. Yet, for smaller companies, this isn’t necessary or feasible.

Appointing someone within the business to be the key point person for your CSR programmes can provide a much-needed focus and keeps things moving. Enabling CSR with technology is usually the best and easiest way to engage all employees with minimal manual management. Employees are then given the choice of whether to get involved or not, volunteering and fundraising for causes they feel passionately about, as and when they can.

Growing Sales

As we’ve seen, CSR is great at attracting, retaining, and inspiring the top talent. But customers are inspired by CSR too!

In the US, 83% of consumers say they want more products and services they use to contribute to a social cause, with 62% saying they’d switch brands if it didn’t have a clear social purpose.

As such, companies with a good reputation for CSR see sales revenue increase by up to 20%, according to the Project ROI Report, with every $1 in philanthropic contributions generating $6 of revenue (within limits).

Of course, sales won’t increase if customers don’t know the work you are doing, so you need to shout about it. Add it to your packaging like Innocent do, or build it into your advertising, for example. Just make sure you are tracking the impact you make.

This is often easier said than done, but a CSR manager or technology platform should be able to keep a running total of money donated, hours spent volunteering, paper and ink saved, etc. These facts help to benchmark your business against others and demonstrate your commitment to CSR, giving you great marketing material.

How to choose a CSR project

To discover the most effective ways to make a social and environmental impact, use a survey or workshop to ask what causes your employees are interested in. If staff feel they are leading the direction of CSR then they’ll be far more committed to it themselves. Ultimately, the most effective CSR programmes are those that fit in with your brand ethos and employees’ passions.

In conclusion, find a CSR programme that fits with your brand and your employees’ passions – and commit to it wholeheartedly. Your employees, customers, and the world will thank you.





Marco Barbosa is a serial entrepreneur who has started three successful businesses and has been named in Forbes 30under30 for Social Entrepreneurship. His latest venture, eSolidar, is a tech platform connecting businesses with charities to enable better CSR and employee engagement.

eSolidar has just launched on equity crowdfunding site Seedrs. When he’s not starting businesses, doing TEDx talks, or advocating corporate responsibility, Marco likes to travel and experience different cultures around the world.