Employee Volunteering and Social Capital: Contributions to Corporate Social Responsibility

18 March 2009

A report by Muthri, J,N., Matten, D. and Moon, J., in the British Journal of Management, 20(1), pp.75-89

This report describes research into the ways social capital is generated and maintained within Employee Volunteering (EV) schemes, situating their observations within broader debates about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The authors frame their findings using models of the operations and dimensions of social capital drawn from management theory. They draw attention to ‘networks’, ‘trust’ and ‘norms’ in facilitating the ‘goodwill’ that can emerge from the structure and content of relationships between actors in an EV setting, and the consequent information, influence and solidarity it makes available to them. Social capital, then, is seen through the lens of the motivation and opportunities of actors to build social relationships and co-operate.

The research consisted of 48 in-depth interviews, document analysis and participant observation, focussing on stakeholders’ descriptions of their EV interactions: actors in EV programmes within 3 UK multinationals (employees and community relations staff) and outside the companies (community organizations and EV brokers – usually charities).

The claimed benefits of EV in terms of CSR are multiple. EV enables companies to “give back to the community”, forging and maintaining cooperative relationships between companies and communities, and contributing to both business development and reputation, seen as a vital element of CSR in recent years, as companies strive to demonstrate their ‘ethical responsibilities’ and ‘shared norms’ with wider society. The social networks improve companies’ understanding of community issues to inform further programmes. Employees are able to share knowledge and acquire new skills, insights into community issues, new perspectives on their own business and inner satisfaction. Community actors claim that EV enables leverage of resources, institutional capacity building, and enhanced staff skills and knowledge. Exposure to the ‘business world’ enhances their ability to attract further company supports and increases their sphere of influence.

The authors give empirical evidence to bear out these claims, presenting their main findings as follows:

EV enables social relations to be formed, drawing upon the resources (abilities, motivations and opportunities) of stakeholders. For instance, employees motivated by a sense of reciprocity draw on informal social contacts to gather information on volunteering opportunities, mobilize resources and create opportunities for further collective action (‘feedback loops’ are thus identified as essential to the maintenance and development of social capital). Such relationships are characterized by shared norms of co-operation, building networks of trust that may extend to future interactions.

Activities may be face-to-face or online, one-off or recurrent, and last for different lengths of time. The research revealed how different types of EV are shown to enable social capital creation in diverse ways. For example, while team assignments offer strong network ties with high external deployability and potential for thick trust, mentoring can bring strong ties and thick trust between individual mentors and mentees but are limited in wider deployability.

The authors conclude that EV programmes supplement market features of company-community relations by enhancing the social capital in their relationships. They claim to have provided a more refined conceptual understanding of EV as a form of corporate community involvement. Applying the social capital framework enables a better understanding of antecedents, mechanisms and types of outcomes of EV. They give recommendations for how such relations may be fostered and maintained, for instance “transparent and proactive communication” and investment by managers into EV, such as providing opportunities for volunteers.

Download the report.

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