Updated: Jan 13, 2022
Companies with a strong social conscience create psychological safety for their employees.
Across the workforce, there is a cultural reckoning afoot. Intersecting conversations about well-being, vulnerability and belonging are flooding the airwaves. Inside organizations, cultural strategists are tasked with parsing through all this insight and finding new ways to integrate a deeper understanding of talent. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Workforce Trends Report, the relationship between worker and employer will be a linchpin in determining the success of organizations (“success” meaning business performance and employee engagement and retention, in this case) coming out of the pandemic.
One interrelationship that has emerged as a key driver of employee experience exists between well-being and the “social enterprise”. The years before the pandemic saw workers looking to organizations to do good in the world and be accountable for their actions. A strong CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy and defined commitment to ESG (environmental, social and governance) are no longer feathers in a company’s cap. They are table stakes and prospective employees expect their organization to engage in society with compassion and a genuine desire to make things better.
As the need for a strong social conscience was trending up in workforce discourse, so was the de-stigmatization of mental health in the conversation about well-being.
At the outset of the global pandemic, we adjusted to endless Zoom calls, carved out “office nooks” in our condos and summoned the strength to open our computers and engage with positivity as isolation and burnout took hold. When the initial shock of the quick-pivot to a completely new world and working model began to wane, culture and employee experience strategists re-ignited the conversation about well-being. Now, the conversation had evolved and a new word has gained major ground in these conversations: vulnerability. Companies were asked to hold space for compassion and empathy. Leaders were told to take the helm and communicate with profound transparency. This, we now understand, espouses the most important ingredient in professional vulnerability — psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the link that binds employee well-being to organizational social conscience. The definition of well-being has been expanded to include employees’ social and emotional health. Taking care of employees is a mainstay of good corporate citizenship. We know a company’s social conscience impacts well-being. 88% of Millennials believe their future employer should work to alleviate social concerns. 86% believe that company performance should be evaluated on more than profitability (Deloitte, 2021). In 2018, a Randstad survey found that 77% of Canadians want to work for socially responsible companies. It’s compelling and heartening to see such a substantial proportion of the workforce demanding businesses do more to make the world a better place.
Why does a strong social conscience promote psychological well-being? Science tells us that when we engage in making a positive impact for our communities, we feel more connected to each other and the world. According to a 2020 report in the Journal of Happiness Studies, feeling a sense of altruism boosts physical and mental health. Galvanization against societal betterment lends itself to employees who are more engaged and unified. The Cleveland Clinic tells us, “Researchers also say that people who give their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who don’t.”
In 2020, author and human capital strategist Timothy Clark wrote a book called “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.” In it, he walks readers through the foundations of psychological safety — a feeling of belonging and empowerment to speak up without judgement or marginalization. The book acts as a guide to fostering a workplace culture where everyone’s voice is heard and each employee understands they have a platform to affect positive change. The third stage of psychological safety, according to Clark, is called “Contributor Safety”. The foundations of Contributor Safety are planted in our inherent desire to make a difference and the confidence and competence that flourishes when we are enabled to do this at work. “When we create contributor safety for others, we empower them with autonomy, guidance, and encouragement in exchange for effort and results.” Organizations that embed social conscience in well-being create space for contributor safety to thrive. Employees that feel supported to own their contributions and social impact are mobilized to champion inclusion, openness and innovation.
Despite all the incredible research and insight that has been produced around organizational social conscience, there is still a long way to go in the quest to create altruism-infused workplace culture. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Millennial Study, seven out of ten Millennials feel most organizations are still fundamentally self-interested. Now is the time for businesses to make and communicate decisions about their social conscience. Woven into the fabric of the employee experience and employer reputation should be clear, compelling narratives about corporate social responsibility.
The best place to start is with employees listening and leader advocacy. Employees are the always best source of cultural insight — companies that take the time to collect employee data and, based on findings, evolve their employee value propositions to include well-being and social conscience will lead the charge going into 2022. Leaders also need to engage, internally and externally, on the matter of corporate social governance and plant a stake in the ground when it comes to how their organizations invest in and shape the world around them.
Across industries and geographies, the workforce is speaking. Workers all over the world are demanding more heartfelt support for mental health. They are forming strong emotional connections with organizations that emphasize social conscience as much as they do profits. Companies that listen, learn and evolve strategy to respond to these expectations will emerge from the pandemic with confident, engaged and productive leaders and teams.