The Science of Giving Back: Good Business Depends On It

January 5, 2019

What comes around goes around. You get what you give. "The love you take is equal to the love you make" (thanks, Beatles). We've heard all of those things our whole lives, but do they really hold true?

Well, in business, they do. There's a lot of evidence that giving back does wonders for business and the reasons might run a little deeper than you would expect.

The Science of Giving Back

Traditional knowledge would tell you that the more lucrative the employee benefit package, the happier the employee. Financial benefits that go back to employees are important, of course, but it's starting to appear that humans are more wired to value a different kind of compensation: social responsibility.

The connection between employee happiness and corporate social responsibility can be partially found in our psychology and our the history of our species.

Evolution and Empathy

It makes sense that early humans would have a better chance of survival if they acted in the interest of their tribes. Those who felt rewarded by the experience of helping others are the ones who lived on, which is why most people feel joy when they empathize with their loved ones.

Empathy is something that most of us can't help but feel, and our brains reward us when we give it.

Adam Smith defined empathy as "changing places in fancy with the sufferer." It's an act that takes on the pain of another, and it requires that we reach beyond ourselves and connect with the people around us.

Early on, that would have meant our immediate family members and close group members. Empathetic behavior lies far down the evolutionary chain as well; a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that rhesus monkeys would deny themselves food if doing so would prevent a fellow monkey from being shocked.

The monkey's brain, much like ours, experiences a reward when it makes the choice to benefit a companion. In fact, human brains respond similarly to empathetic actions as they do to receiving monetary rewards. This example translates directly to current attitudes toward compensation-- sure, we'd all love a million dollars, but would you take it if it meant that others would go hungry?

The way giving relates to reward starts in our frontal lobes and extends out into ideas of self, purpose, and meaning in life.

Employment and Identity

People don't want to feel like they're nuts and bolts in the engine of a billionaire's car. With virtual access to a wide view of the world and all of its inequalities, workers want to know that their efforts aren't contributing to the systemic problems of the world.

They want the opposite, in fact. If we're keeping with the rhesus monkey example, informed workers are now aware that others are getting shocked when they choose to take the food.

As a result, we want to know that our work will contribute to the benefit of others. A workplace that actively responds to the values of employees is one that workers will integrate as a positive piece of their identities.

How Employees Respond

Who wouldn't want to add "respected employee" to their list of attributes? Being heard and responded to is something we all crave.

Community Health Charities has broken down employee response to social responsibility into four categories: productivity, ethical identity, gratitude, and pride.

Workers are more productive when they see the work they do as valuable. When this is the case, people are excited to show up to work and are more likely to engage with what they're working on.

As we've noted, they also incorporate their company's ethical behavior into their own sense of self. If a company operates in a way that represents the values of its employees, the workplace will be guided by a value system that aids in decision making.

As a result, people will show gratitude for your interest and engagement in their lives. They'll be proud of the place they work.

How Consumers Respond

Those informed workers are also consumers, and they take the same integrity into the marketplace. People are changing their habits to support brands that agree with their values.

In a Cone Communications study, 52% of consumers stated that they bought a product or service because the company stood up for an issue that they cared about. 50% stated that they had boycotted a company because they learned of it behaving irresponsibly.

Further, 80% of millennials, who account for roughly 600 billion in spending in the United States each year, say that they believe companies have the obligation to take actions to improve issues that may not be related to their everyday business. (Source: Cone Communications Study 2017).

So, What Can You Do?

If you haven't taken the time to understand your employees, take this article as a sign. Get to know what they believe and value in a company.

What causes do most, if not all, of your employees support? Are there issues in the community that your business could contribute to? There are a couple of ways you can find these things out:

First, brainstorm ideas with your partners. See what you already know about your staff and decide on the best way to communicate with them.

If your staff is large, consider a poll. Ask a few questions to probe them on the things that matter to them. It may be best to do this in the short answer format so people can give a little explanation of what they believe-- a swarm of response emails might be overwhelming and multiple choice doesn't give a lot of room for expression.

Then comes the time to incorporate your employees' values to your business model. Pledgeling makes it a lot easier than you might think.

How Pledgeling Can Help

No matter the scale of your efforts, Pledgeling has options to help you reach fundraising goals. Linking your brand with a cause can happen in as little as five minutes.

Shopify businesses have the option of incorporating donations right into the front-end of their site. Our Give & Grow platform allows you to select a cause, add the widget to your site, and give all users the opportunity to make donations right away.

You can choose from any of the 200,000+ organizations that Pledgeling has partnered with. On top of that, you can add an Impact Calculator to let everyone know just how much your contributions are doing.

If corporate social responsibility is your focus, contact us to learn more about how  Pledgeling can come alongside and jumpstart or expand your efforts as your impact agency and donations technology provider.

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