What Does Corporate Social Responsibility Have to Do with Today’s Assignees?

“What are your corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs?  Aside from furthering my career, how can your organization help me make a positive contribution to the rest of the world?” A millennial worker asked. The question stumped the Baby Boomer CEO, silencing him for a few seconds. About to sign up a highly-valued candidate, the silver-haired gentleman gave the younger man the space to ask him questions about the company he was about to join.

It’s not the traditional inquiry on compensations, benefits, and career advancement. And it’s not that the candidate was indifferent to his paycheck. But he had other priorities that were on the same level as making a lot of money.

Corporate social responsibility programs, the activities that show a company “paying back” for the greater good, have suddenly acquired new meaning and relevance in a generation that does take significance very seriously.

Relocate Magazine categorizes CSR programs into the following:  ethical, legal, and social. That can translate into a law firm’s providing pro bono legal services to the marginalized who cannot afford their own lawyer, or literally building homes for the homeless in poverty-stricken areas.

CSR as a principle and as a policy does give a human face to the company, and positions it as a brand that does care deeply about the society it services. The cynical, though, do tend to write it off as a means for the organization to get sizeable tax breaks, or divert the public’s attention from some of its more questionable practices.

Company heads and managers also tend to regard CSR as an option for employees who sincerely want to contribute their time and talent to less empowered sectors But as the above millennial candidate’s questions showed, it has since shifted from being a side activity that one can join, to a worthwhile cause that reflects their values.

In a Work Flexibility Survey, 61 percent of the millennial talents who took it said that they are anxious about the world they are living in. More important, they feel that it is their personal responsibility to find the solutions to fix the problems they see around them.

The assignee or foreign talent who is of that generation might actually feel that drive more intensely. Let’s take it from their perspective. A stranger in a strange land, they would want to see if the company they joined actually practices the values it espouses, like work-life integration and diversity.

They would want to be certain that the organizational structure creates a level playing field which will recognize their talents and contributions, instead of limiting them because of their race and ethnicity.

As foreigners, they would be more persuaded of the company’s concern for the greater good if its managers actually joined feeding programs or taught English literacy classes.

CSR can be a way to make these assignees more motivated and productive, while fulfilling their own inner desires to make an impact. To develop this motivation, global mobility managers can do the following:

  • Take the lead in joining the company’s CSR program. After all, the best way to lead is still by example. Rolling your sleeves up and digging ditches for impoverished towns speak more about your commitment to company values than any eloquent speech.
  • Present the various CSR programs to the assignee, and let them make their choice. This approach will also introduce the assignee to the holistic approach your company has taken in solving the world’s ills. They can also find the program that fits their own individual values and advocacies. The IT assignee might actually feel more passionate about protecting the coral reef, while their marketing colleague finds meaning in teaching business basics to micro-entrepreneurs.
  • Recognize the assignee’s achievements, and smartly synergize it with their own performance in the corporate workplace. A casual “Job well done!  Those kids’ reading skills improved because of your training them” can keep the assignee motivated. But do not let that energy peak decline for the rest of the week. Instead, channel that newfound optimism and burst of adrenaline into the workplace, where the assignee can continue to make huge positive buckets of difference.
  • Apply the skills, insights, and ideas they have learned in the CSR programs into their actual projects, if possible. Remind them how minimal resources can accomplish a great deal, given sufficient motivation and an achievable vision.  The assignee just might soon feel the rush of adrenaline every time they are in the office, executing their responsibilities — or outside  of it, as part of a CSR activity.

With their values in work and life successfully integrated, they just might remain happy campers for a long time. Over time, like the work-life champions in California, they will use their abundant talents not just to enhance significance, but bring about innovation.