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Executive Job Seekers Weigh Social Responsibility Along with Salary

By Stephen Miller  2/22/2008
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A new study reveals that nearly 30 percent of prospective executive-level employees say they would be willing to accept 10 percent less salary to work for a socially responsible company. While it's not certain how many would actually hew to that line if push came to shove, their expressed sentiment remains a strong indicator that a reputation for social responsibility is a strong draw, at least among a sizeable portion of today's high-level job seekers.

The study report, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Communications: Who’s Listening? Who’s Leading? What Matters Most?, was developed in collaboration with the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, the nonprofit Net Impact, the CEO-led World Business Council for Sustainable Development and public relations firm Edelman. Among its other key findings:

    • More than 60 percent of survey respondents would be willing to leave their current job to work for a company that is more socially responsible, assuming comparable salary and benefits.

    • Companies often neglect an important corporate responsibility communications audience: prospective employees. HR could do much more to leverage responsible business practices as a recruiting tool, given that today’s job seekers tend to research a company’s performance in this area. Yet 62 percent of survey respondents admitted that their recruitment materials failed to emphasize this information.

The report is based on an international survey of executives from global Fortune 500 companies plus 3,100 global opinion leaders and a survey of Net Impact’s international membership, among other corporate stakeholders. The findings are at odds with some other surveys, perhaps because of this study's focus on multinational executives and Net Impact's members (see, for example, CSR Programs Valued but Not Big Factor for Job Seekers.) Still, its conclusions offer sound advice on how employers can leverage leadership on social issues to attract committed high-level candidates.

Get the Word Out

Transparency in communications was a key indicator of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the study found—more important even than philanthropy or partnerships with not-for-profit and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). For instance, respondents emphasized that:

    • Transparency is a key indicator of a socially responsible company. Being transparent about business operations, future goals and treatment of workforce are vital indicators for stakeholders assessing corporate responsibility and sustainability. Some 45 percent of survey respondents agreed that communicating positive and negative performance ranked among the three most important activities for a socially responsible company to engage in.

    “More companies are realizing that authenticity is the key to effective corporate responsibility communications,” said Peggy Connolly, communications director at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. “This research reveals the importance of companies being real, relevant and responsive to key stakeholders—internally with employees and externally with NGOs and others.”

A key take-away: the importance of companies being
real, relevant and responsive to key stakeholders—
internally with employees and externally.


    • Stakeholders expect companies to lead—not just manage risk—on key issues. No longer does it suffice for companies to simply manage risks on certain global issues such as climate change, human rights and poverty alleviation. Taking leadership on these issues is valued.

    • Employees have emerged as key communications audiences because of their impact on a company’s bottom line. Directing corporate responsibility-focused communications at employees is empowering for them and a company’s programs, respondents said. “Employees are a company’s most valuable resource when it comes to putting corporate responsibility initiatives to work,” notes Liz Maw, executive director of Net Impact. “This research highlights just how important it is to communicate a company’s responsible business practices to employees.”

Stephen Miller is manager of SHRM Online's Compensation & Benefits Focus Area.

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