Proof: A strong CSR program can attract, retain talent for less

[Editor's note: This column from Ellen Weinreb takes a deeper look at Net Impact's latest report exploring how corporate sustainability programs can impact workers. For a glimpse of some of the employees who illustrate the report's larger trends, as well as advice from those on the front lines, see Net Impact CEO Liz Maw's recent column, "Sustainability-engaged employees more satisfied, study shows."]

Some of today's youngest workers dream of making a big impact on the people and environments around them -- and they're willing to take a pay cut to land a job that will let them do that.

Even with lower pay, those who have found such a job are twice as satisfied at work as those who haven't.

These are some of the most noteworthy findings of a report published last week by Net Impact, an organization whose members largely reflect the aspirations of these young workers. The fittingly named group describes them as a new generation determined to use their careers to solve the world's greatest challenges. By doing so, "they show the world that it's possible to make a net impact that benefits not just the bottom line, but people and planet too."

The findings of the report, "Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012," are interesting, especially for a talent acquisition specialist like me. I continually see, for example, that employees are motivated by their company's corporate social responsibility program. This report now attaches some essential numbers to sentiments that had previously been nothing more than anecdotal.

The researchers surveyed 1,726 respondents via an independent research organization with the demographics skewed heavy toward millennials. While a quarter of the respondents were in college, 47 percent were millennials (age 21-32) and the rest consisted of Gen X and Boomers. Those in school were asked about the work they aspired to while the rest were asked about their work, their work satisfaction and what they valued.

Of those working, 24 percent worked in the government sector, 32 percent worked for a large company, 22 percent worked for a small company, 14 percent worked in the nonprofit sector and 7 percent were self employed or chose "other."

The majority across all generations, however, (61-70 percent) agreed that they have a personal responsibility to make things better for society, rather than leaving it to others.

What is an "impact career?"

The survey found that "impact" jobs have a direct correlation with overall job satisfaction. The concept of an impact career fascinates me. I recently wrote about the impact of a preschool teacher compared to that of a chief sustainability officer for the Huffington Post. Through the comparison I sought to define the enormous positive social impact they both have on society.

This is the most significant finding of the report: Workers who are able to make a social and environmental impact on the job are most satisfied by a margin of 2:1.

Among all workers, 46 percent of those who both have and want the opportunity to make a difference at work are very satisfied with their jobs. For workers who don't have that opportunity but want it, just 18 percent report being very satisfied with their jobs.

Remember that Net Impact defines "impact careers" as being able to make some positive social or environmental difference through their work. Those taking the survey were a representative sample of individuals in the United States, and not necessarily GreenBiz readers or Net Impact members.

For them, an impact career could include service -- service to their country or service to future generations.  

Millennials

Millennials are interesting because they have had social and environmental education indoctrinated into their core being. While they often get a bad rep for being narcissistic and entitled, the Net Impact report found that they care greatly about impact careers. In fact 59 percent of Millennials desire (finding it essential or very important) a job that can make a difference compared to about 50 percent of their older cohorts.

Students would take a pay cut

The students are more idealistic, the report emphasizes. Of the students, 72 percent say a job where they can make an impact is an important life goal to them -- ranking above having children, wealth or a prestigious career!

All things being equal, they are keen to take a 15 percent pay cut to get the job right:

    • 35 percent of the students said they would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for a company committed to CSR
    • 45 percent would take that pay cut for a job that makes a social and environmental impact
    • 58 percent would take a pay cut in order to work for an organization whose values are shared with their own.

Further, an eye-opening statistic for recruiters and business, all the students report an expectation that they would find an impact career. Of the students, 65 percent say they expect to find a job that will make an impact while 37 percent say they will do this in the next five years.

So what's the net value of the report? A significant first data collection that begins to chip away at the sentiments and expectations of today's talent: They expect to have a positive impact through their jobs and they don't see their personal and professional lives as two distinct entities. They expect business to be responsible -- and they will personally take a pay cut to align with the companies that are.

"The next generation of employees doesn't want to leave their values at the door when they go off to work on a Monday morning," suggests Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact. "Gone are 'weekend environmentalists.'"

What does this mean for business? You should buckle up and straighten your CSR programs before you begin facing a major hurdle in attracting the best talent out there -- and retaining the top performers of your workforce.

Workers image via Shutterstock.