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Why a Caring Culture Matters: An Interview with Ante Glavas, PhD

Holly Duckworth, PhD, co-founder of Sherpa Sustainability Institute, had a chance to chat with Ante Glavas about his research on Perceived Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Attitudes. Dr. Glavas has found that how employees see that other organization stakeholders are treated, leads to job satisfaction and organizational commitment...that then leads to employee performance.

Here’s an excerpt, but please listen to the whole podcast.

Holly: So, Dr. Glavas, take us all the way back to when you were formulating this research on Perceived Corporate Social Responsibility (PCSR) and employee attitudes. Why did you pick these specific factors and why did you think they were important at the time?

Ante: Well that's a great question. At the time I wasn't aware of any really good scales on the topic of PCSR. Most the measures of social responsibility were at the organizational level. From my experience in the corporate sector, I knew that if I wasn't proactively searching to know about my company’s social responsibility efforts, there was a good chance I would not have known about it. I was interested in understanding: how do you know how employees are affected by how they perceive the organization’s CSR efforts? And depending on the perception, how you know how that affects their attitudes and in general behaviors at work. I was interested in work meaningfulness. And so that's where if a company is doing more socially responsible things and you feel like you're coming to work and you're actually having an impact on the world you might find your work more meaningful.

Holly: So, what did you find?

Ante: We looked primarily at job satisfaction and organizational commitment. These factors have been shown to be two of the best predictors of overall job performance. We're wondering…does having meaningful work increase a person's performance? People find meaning in work when they believe their company is truly contributing to the well-being of their stakeholders. Which is, by the way, how we define social responsibility. What we've found is that the social side of work, especially attention to stakeholders, has an effect above and beyond environmental efforts. So, to be clear what I'm saying is that the environmental side of social responsibility does have a positive effect. But above and beyond that, the social side of social responsibility has an added effect.

I love to show this example. There's a Levi’s commercial on waterless jeans and the commercial really speaks to people. It goes beyond just saying we're saving water for the environment. But it talks about people's struggles with water, so the human side of the story gives an example of women in Asia who have to walk many miles to get water. It becomes a more emotional story. So, it's a personal approach to social responsibility that people tend to get a lot more connected to. It can create a human perspective, knowing that you're helping your stakeholders. It makes work more meaningful, coming in each day knowing that you're helping the wellbeing of your stakeholders. As an employee, you're more motivated, you find work more meaningful, you perform better at work and you’re more committed. You find higher job satisfaction.

Holly: I'm going to read two quotes here from the paper that we're citing in this podcast. “We contribute to the broader management literature by finding that work meaningfulness is derived from how the organization treats others and not from how the organization treats its employees.” And then, “second, we found that employees find meaningfulness from PCSR only when actions are directed towards a third party. Can you speak this?

Ante: Employees do respond positively when they're treated well at work. But when we control for that, we found that employees respond favorably when the organization is treating others well. That was interesting because I think a lot of the management research has been inherently looking at employees as just having a sort a view of “what have you done for me lately”. But, it's really hard to operationalize that and find out what are the intents and values of the organization. We started looking to see if social responsibility is embedded in the company's core business model. If not, employees might think CSR is just a bunch of greenwashing and marketing and as a result there might be even more of a negative effect. If a company does talk about social responsibility, but it doesn't really put it into practice, it becomes even more of a negative than if the company would have said nothing at all. Employees get all hyped up; they start believing and then they get really disappointed. Employees can look at social responsibility as a signaling effect; are the values truly the values of this company? Because it's really hard to measure what the values are. It's hard to measure relational culture climate. I think when employees see social responsibility efforts they get more of a sense that this organization really walks the talk.

Holly: Dr. Glavas, what is your advice for organizations?

Ante: It depends on the organization, because it's so hard to have a cookie cutter method. The big advice I have is that if we're going to really embedded social responsibility, you have to look at what your core competencies are. For example, take a company that is into analyzing data. Here you might want to work on smart cities. And how do you make cities more green, for example. Use your strengths for social responsibility. So that's the first thing. The second piece of advice is that if you have the right process you’ll achieve the actual plan and it's not just superficial and employees will react positively. There's an effect where they believe the organization will take care of them too and therefore they're more committed and likely to stay longer. Then the third thing I'm finding is that the culture has a lot to do with this. If you are a very short term oriented, very aggressive, competitive, and just look at growth targets - then it's really hard to justify that culture with trying to take care of the well-being of stakeholders and employees. But, I think it's a huge issue of how to create a caring compassion culture where you care for other stakeholders and as a result people will have a core value caring for others. So, I think the bottom line is, how do you create a workplace where you come in each day to work, knowing that your work is meaningful and you're helping and you're caring for the well-being of your stakeholders.

Holly: To some extent I think that ties into the work of the Sherpa Sustainability Institute and continual improvement for social responsibility. If you take a continual improvement approach where we're just going to get on the path - it's a journey - we're going to always be improving our performance. We're going to always be working on improving impacts for stakeholders, then maybe there's job satisfaction that can come out of that when you are employed in these organizations. Thank you so much Dr. Glavas for your work and for your participation in this webcast today.

Note: Interview transcript has been edited for brevity.