Voluntary Sector Review
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Employee Engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility by Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Lonneke Roza and Stephen Brammer (eds) (2020)

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  • 1 Alpen-Adria Universität, University of Klagenfurt, , Austria
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Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Lonneke Roza and Stephen Brammer (eds) (2020)

Employee Engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility

SAGE Publications

216pp

Paperback: ISBN 978-1-5264-9650-8, £29.99

Hardback: ISBN 978-1-5264-9651-5, £85.00

 

In creating and delivering their employer’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), employees are passive and reactive, attracted and repelled, initiators and boycotters. Employee Engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility explores the themes and tensions of employee engagement, defined as the ‘in-role and extra-role attitudes and behaviours related to their employer’s CSR’ (p 4), where CSR addresses ‘social and environmental issues while also benefitting the business and its stakeholders’ (p 11).

As experienced educators, researchers and authors in the field, the editors recognise that the CSR literature predominantly presents ‘corporate-level perspectives’ (p 3) and compiled this book as a counterbalance, as an employee-centric learning and research resource. Written by authors from diverse disciplines, geographies and academic and practitioner backgrounds, the 11 chapters fall into sections on the antecedents, processes and impacts of employee involvement in CSR. The sections create a natural path through the book, but with similar themes appearing throughout – sense making of CSR is recursive, not linear.

The editors position CSR as a tool and beneficiary of employee engagement. CSR offers a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining ‘talent’, and employee selection can ‘strengthen CSR related fit’ (Glavas and Willness, Chapter 2, p 22). Applicants consider their job expectations – from self-benefiting and extrinsic to relational and intrinsic – against the organisation’s CSR to assess its suitability as a future employer and then, once employed, their willingness to become involved with CSR (Handy, Hustinx and Spraul, Chapter 9). As Kid, Maak, Pless and Harris’s analysis of employee engagement theories (Chapter 3) concludes, CSR should not be ‘an additional workload, but an integral, enriching part of one’s job’ (p 39).

The message is that employees engage with CSR strategies that are congruent with their ideals; one way organisations can address this challenge is through tailored job design. In Chapter 2, Glavas and Willness’s conceptual matrix shows how CSR’s prominence within an organisation can correlate to its prominence in an individual’s job description. In Haski-Leventhal, Glavas and Roza’s international case study in Chapter 7, the employees saw a problem and acted out of role as social intrapreneurs to get their employers, even other stakeholders, involved. In contrast, van der Heijden and Cramer’s longitudinal study of Dutch companies (Chapter 5) considered employees with in-role CSR responsibility. These change agents had the knack of navigating organisational fields and creating shared values that motivated others. Another job-role variation is an international pro bono placement. In Mirvis, MacArthur, Walsh and Gapeka’s synthesis in Chapter 8, these placements improved employees’ functional, communication and cultural skills and organisational commitment.

Whereas job-crafting or international volunteering is not feasible for all organisations and employees, publicising CSR values and strategies is. Internal communication attracts specific consideration in Wagner, Roza and Haski-Leventhal’s investigation (Chapter 6) as ‘a circular sensemaking and sensegiving process’ (p 87), which can generate passivity, even disengagement when employees cannot adopt and adapt the messages as their own. The editors’ inclusion of Korschun and Godfrey’s (Chapter 10) conceptualisation of politically orientated CSR not only offers a unique perspective but also contributes to understanding employees’ dis/ownership of CSR messages by distinguishing between engagement orientated towards achieving functional goals and that which ‘contribute to the company’s ideological goals’ (p 165). Just as political ideologies, Strah, Batz-Barbarich and Rupp (Chapter 4) position gender as an antecedent affecting motivation to enact, and perceptions that react to, CSR strategies and also as an outcome, an opportunity to drive ethical and business change, for example internal employment/board opportunities.

As the editors rightly outline, the book spans vast geographical, methodological and thematic territory (Chapter 11). The compact 216 pages prohibit an in-depth analysis but offer a basis for comprehending the myriad influencers of employees’ engagement with CSR. The book is written for CSR undergraduate and postgraduate students and educators; nonetheless, it has broader application, including human resources, economic development, communication and organisational psychology. Each chapter has ‘Learning objectives’, ‘Questions for students’, references and research ideas for expanding and deepening the topic, supporting the editors’ call for multidisciplinary research.

The Appendix contains a comprehensive, thematic list of academic literature into dis/engagement factors, yet chapters also cite grey literature. This overlapping of science and practice promotes mutual understandings of the field, which the book could have advanced by synthesising and applying consistent definitions of CSR and engagement. Similarly, chapters differentiated employees from supervisors and leaders who are instrumental in employee sense making and value congruence; however, leaders and supervisors are also employees. Whether their engagement with CSR is different from ‘other’ employees necessitating different research studies and practical strategies would have contributed further. Also, as CSR applies beyond businesses, of interest would be studies investigating public and voluntary organisations given their different structural and sectoral contexts.

How employees make sense of CSR activities in their social context determines whether CSR can genuinely win for all involved: employee, employer, recipients and society. By having a clear focus, the book contributes to science by showing how individual and organisational involvements with CSR intersect and form employees’ responses, be they positive, indifferent or hostile.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are increasingly working offsite, virtually and in isolation, which challenges sense making, value sharing and engagement, making the book’s practice-orientated recommendations and frameworks a timely contribution. For the voluntary sector, even when social and environmental responsibility is the modus operandi, the lessons about engaging employees – and volunteers – with their impact strategies are equally relevant and compelling.

  • 1 Alpen-Adria Universität, University of Klagenfurt, , Austria

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