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Empowering Organisations: Unveiling the Impact of Employee Perspectives on Corporate Sustainability

Sustainable development stands as a paramount objective for both public and private sector entities, recognising the imperative of charting a course towards a more sustainable future. Issues such as climate change, pollution, wealth concentration among a privileged few, erosion of workers’ rights, and other societal concerns have gained prominence, necessitating a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) from both political and private spheres. Firms, as well as politicians, are now expected by customers and societies to actively contribute to and champion sustainability, considering it an integral aspect of the frameworks that underpin their value.

However, research has thus far failed to explore the specifics of how CSR measures, particularly in the realms of social, ecological, and economic sustainability, are perceived by employees as catalysts for organisational sustainable behaviour. The perspectives of employees, instrumental in implementing CSR processes, have been largely neglected.

Employees have expressed diverse views on how their companies are embracing CSR measures for a more sustainable future.

Primarily, all employees exhibited some level of interest in sustainable development, whether due to the demands of their work environment or a genuine concern for sustainability. They acknowledged the impact of corporate sustainability on their workflows, with most associating sustainability predominantly with environmental issues. This diversity of perspectives poses a challenge for organisations aiming for a transformational process, as conflicting priorities may hinder cohesive efforts in CSR implementation.

Employees acknowledged the link between sustainable development and CSR, appreciating leaders who adhered to established roadmaps, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or incorporated sustainability values into their company’s code of conduct. Leadership emerged as pivotal in promoting CSR, with authentic and visionary leaders inspiring employees to contribute to the transformative agenda. These leaders, acting as advocates for CSR, were perceived as instrumental in anchoring a vision for a more sustainable future within the company’s strategic orientation.

Firm managers, akin to “social policy entrepreneurs,” were identified as crucial advocates for CSR. Employees valued leaders who staunchly supported CSR measures and had a sustainability-focused vision for corporate transformation. However, the top-down approach in some organisations, especially subsidiaries, resulted in communication gaps and counterproductive perspectives, underscoring the importance of inclusive leadership.

Organisations that welcomed employee input in CSR processes received a commendation, underscoring the need for systematic inclusion and empowerment. While employees acknowledged the importance of having a say in CSR efforts, they also highlighted resource allocation challenges and the need for dedicated positions or concessions outside day-to-day business.

Employees generally supported CSR-driven transformations, especially when measures directly benefitted them or their working environment. Community engagement initiatives were particularly appreciated, fostering a sense of inclusivity. However, some employees in subsidiaries felt excluded due to a lack of dedicated CSR budgets, impacting their perception of the organisation.

Crucially, employees actively engaged in CSR measures exhibited changes in their consumption behaviour in everyday life, demonstrating the potential for CSR initiatives to influence broader lifestyle choices.

Practically, managers should comprehend employee perspectives on sustainability to align CSR approaches with the interests of internal stakeholders. Leveraging executive influence, demonstrating commitment to sustainability, and directly benefiting employees through CSR measures can mobilise support.

Employees wield a crucial role in the effective implementation of CSR measures and organisational sustainability transformations. Organisations must consider employee perspectives, involve them in the process, and demonstrate the tangible benefits of a more sustainable company.

Insights by: Dr Jay Wasim and Parnia Ahmed