More than 18,000 signatories from over 160 countries have taken part in the United Nations’ Global Impact campaign, promising to implement its ten principles aimed at supporting a viable future for all and proving sustainability has become part of our world’s fabric. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 were officially introduced in 2016 to provide companies, businesses and NGOs with a tangible ground on which to build their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Five years later, the SDGs are part of a growing number of companies’ strategies. And for a good reason: integrating the SDGs into a company’s strategic goals has become crucial for employers to attract and retain talents.
In 2016, surveys showed that U.S. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), for instance, found their job more fulfilling by 88% when they were provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. 64% also said they would not agree to a job in a company that doesn’t have strong CSR values.
A 2020 study from Glassdoor found that 75% of respondents aged 18 to 34 expect their employer to “take a stand on important issues affecting the country, including immigration, equal rights, and climate change”.
In that context, how can companies implement successful policies to attract and retain talents who are increasingly sensitive to CSR concerns? In order to find out, we have contacted Caroline Renoux, CEO at Birdeo, a recruitment agency specialised in chasing CSR talents.
The search for purpose: a matter of generation?
When it comes to purpose-driven companies, the image that often pops up is one of a young, dynamic company able to attract SDG-oriented talents fresh out of college. Looking at social media and public figures such as Greta Thunberg, one could think that sustainability is mainly a matter of the younger generation.
A conception that could lead to thinking that only younger professionals are looking to give sense and meaning to their career in a world where climate change, diversity and reducing inequality are at the heart of modern preoccupations.
However, according to Caroline Renoux, older generations are also seeking to translate their need for purpose through their career choices: “Younger generations are looking for jobs with meaning, and companies with strong values. However, there is also a fair amount of older individuals that also seek a sense of meaning. Younger people are just more prone to saying it out loud.”
But people aged 35 to 45 are concerned too: many of them are changing careers to fit their need for purpose. This is happening for two reasons: the search for meaning and also the fact that when we grow older, we find it harder to adapt to a company’s expectations. People that age feel the need to realign with their core values and desires.”
One way or another, companies that wish to attract new talents have to include CSR in their strategy. When it comes to CSR, does a company’s desire to act matter more than its current performance?
Maybe: “What younger talents look for depends on their level of maturity regarding CSR questions,” explains Caroline Renoux.
“Some think big companies can still be part of the solution and are therefore attracted to these companies, even if we all know they’re not perfect on the subject yet – it is indeed impossible to change and tackle all CSR questions overnight. Other people are going to look for smaller structures, known as purpose-driven companies, which were created from the beginning with a social or environmental purpose.”
Redistributing the cards: the impact of recent crises
The current health crisis, as well as climate change and its terrible consequences, have reshuffled the cards in terms of employer brand attractiveness.
Until recently, the paradigm change has been slow, and suffered from states and economic actors being focused on the damage caused by financial crises.
“In 2008, the crisis led by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the subprimes completely overshadowed the progress made during the 2007 Grenelle de l’Environnement. In 2020, all sustainability professionals like us thought sustainability budgets were going to be the first thing cut because of the foreseen economic crisis, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Indeed, the crisis reinforced the need for SDGs. Today, we can see that sustainability is at the heart of our preoccupations, the IPCC reports have never sprung such an interest — they’ve been alarming for two decades but we’re really starting to take their results into account and to talk about it,” recounts Caroline Renoux.
In 2020, all sustainability professionals like us thought sustainability budgets were going to be cut off first because of the foreseen economic crisis, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Indeed, the crisis reinforced the need for SDGs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also shattered our vision of work, mainly by accelerating the spread of telecommuting in a large variety of sectors. “Most people now want to be able to have a real work-life balance. This has become a key criterion for a lot of talents when looking for a job, and consulting companies are the most impacted. In the past, people would agree to work long hours to make a good living. Now they don’t,” says Caroline Renoux.
The secret to keeping talents: purpose, flexibility and trust?
When it comes to successfully integrating CSR in a company’s global strategy, it is necessary to excel in two domains: communications and human resources. Indeed, 59% of employees feel they do not benefit from enough information about the CSR actions taken by their employer.
Sadly, this lack of information results in a lower employee perception of CSR and eventually leads them to feel less engaged, which is quite a shame, when other statistics have shown that more than 75% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact at work… and that firms who manage to have a highly engaged workforce do better than those who don’t, and by far.
Having strong and clear communication about your company’s CSR actions, as well as fully integrating them into your company culture, are key to attracting and engaging talents in the long term. Some businesses have even managed to build their brand image on CSR values.
“Think of Veja — the shoe brand, for example,” says Caroline Renoux. “They have managed to build a brand famous for its environmental and social commitments and continue attracting people eager to work in alignment with their values.”
It has been shown that 76% of millennials take a company’s social and environmental commitments into account when deciding where to work: so efficiently communicating about your CSR department and raising awareness among your HR teams about the company’s CSR objectives is essential to a good recruitment campaign.
Finally, if working from home has become part of our landscape, as well as the promotion of a more balanced lifestyle, when it comes to communications and management, companies should rely on their capacity to be honest with candidates and society in general: “In the search for talents, honesty and trust are key to attract valuable profiles and keep them in the long run. You have to prove that your company means to participate in a global change for the better, and translate it to your whole strategy,” finally advises our guest and expert.