In 1970 the most influential economist of the day, Milton Freidman, wrote what became a famous article for The New York Times Magazine. In “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” Friedman asserted that beyond operating ethically and legally, companies should only concern themselves with making more money.
In Friedman’s view, if companies did a good job of making piles of money, there would be plenty of taxes paid to the government, salaries paid to employees, and dividends paid to shareholders. Out of that money, Friedman argued, the government, employees, and shareholders could attend to the welfare of society and the planet.
Friedman’s views were widely accepted at the time. In 1976 he won the Nobel Prize for economics. But today, hardly anyone would agree with Freidman. Companies large and small embrace corporate social responsibility as a business strategy, leveraging it to gain brand recognition, customer loyalty, and employee engagement.
Cynics could be forgiven for believing that corporate America’s love affair with CSR has more to do with making money than with saving the world. But motivations aside, if the end result is a greater acceptance by business of responsibility for community interests beyond the bottom line, why question the outcome.
An important component of CSR is recognition of a company’s responsibilities to its employees.
Employees have come to expect their employers to consider their interests as stakeholders in business decision-making. And they expect a balancing of profit making with employee satisfaction.
Overlooked, perhaps, are the employee’s responsibilities to their employers and their communities. It may well be time to challenge employees to step up to the plate. To paraphrase President Kennedy, ask not what your company can do for you; ask what you can do for your company.
We have come to know what a responsible company looks like. What does a responsible employee look like? Perhaps this short list will help in making employee corporate social responsibility personal.
Community service and volunteerism: In Milton Freidman’s era, and before, no matter how busy people were at work, they made time for community. Volunteer activities were more prevalent than they are today. If you want to make a socially responsible statement, do it with your time in your community. If your company does not have a corporate community volunteer program, start one. If they do have one, be sure to participate. To really make it personal, pick a cause that has meaning for you. Your donated hours often will become as important and fulfilling to you as your work hours. Maybe more.
Consider the interests of others: A cornerstone of corporate social responsibility is taking the interests of all stakeholders in a decision into account. Since your employers are expected to do it, be sure you are doing so also in all of your business (and personal) decision making. Always ask yourself how customers, suppliers, fellow-workers, shareholders, and the community are affected by your decisions. It is a good habit to get into, as it will help assure habits of responsible decision making.
Cultivate a culture of respect: In a world in which irreverence prevails, it is easy to become caustic and disrespectful of customers, clients, colleagues, and bosses. Ask yourself: Does your attitude and behavior square with standards of social responsibility? If not, time for an attitude adjustment. If you need a little extra motivation to change your act, be selfish. You can give yourself a career boost by showing some respect. You don’t get to the top, (or if you do, last there very long) by bad-mouthing others.
This is just a start. Add to the list in ways that make it personal and meaningful to you. Remember, if you want to work for a responsible company, you need to work at being responsible.
By Bob Greisman