Empowering Employees to Make Social Impact

October 5, 2017


I recently had the pleasure of joining a handful of speakers on the latest installment of Give A Damn, a panel series presented by a coalition of hungry change-makers at the digital agency Huge. Our discussion explored how creative professionals can “incorporate social impact into their daily work in big and small ways,” especially when said impact isn’t necessarily a part of their companies’ day-to-day business mandate.


One thing that became clear was that, while the road to social impact is a convoluted one to navigate for corporations and individuals alike, there are key decisions organizations can make to ensure that they’re prepared to support the positive change their teams wish to see. 


Inspired by that conversation, here’s our shortlist of recommended commitments companies can make to nurture social impact in their staff:


Showcase your values through small decisions. It can feel as though, unless your company has a dedicated department and extensive resources devoted to corporate responsibility, you’re not included in the social impact conversation. In reality, every decision you make is an opportunity to showcase your company’s impact priorities. These choices may look like working exclusively with union vendors, using only sustainable office supplies, prioritizing diverse and inclusive hiring practices, or any number of seemingly low-stakes internal decisions that nevertheless contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world. Whatever your priorities, the point is to make thoughtful choices, share your motivation for doing so with your staff, and empower your team to turn their own decision points into modest social impact moments.


Refresh how you show up in your space. Right now, many companies are reevaluating how to explicate their world views in a divisive social and political landscape. Likewise, many employees are waiting expectantly to hear how their employers intend to navigate this increasingly tense climate, and where they stand on critical issues. Especially for organizations whose missions don’t have a social impact end goal, this may be the ultimate moment to reevaluate outreach strategies and brand language to ensure they reflect a commitment to doing good. So long as this promise is followed by concrete, positive social impact priorities and decisions (because, as we heard at the panel, disillusionment has put employees’ intolerance for inauthenticity in this area at an all-time high), your team can feel a sense of resolution in knowing that this is a priority you share. 


Consider the company you keep. Another way to draw a line in the sand during this time of warring ideals is to closely evaluate the associates in your company’s circle — whether vendor, client, partner, or staff — to ensure that anyone who can say they work with your company generally aligns with your values and vision for the world. In cultivating your network through a moral lens, you can reassure employees who don’t necessarily spend their days explicitly pursuing positive impact that they aren’t working to empower any systems or beliefs that they don’t support.


Let the team voice its dreams. Employees’ laments about the change they’d like to see at a company can be dismissed as idle complaints, when in fact they could be revealing weak spots in your impact intentions that decision-makers have missed. When employees know it’s safe to air their grievances about company choices, you’d be surprised at how quickly that problem-surfacing turns into problem-solving. Your teams should feel secure in pointing out opportunities to make more impact-minded decisions around the office and in their work, and excited about leveraging the team’s time, tools, and ideas to help move the needle.


Empower employees to prioritize impact work. One of the things that allows Purpose to make progress toward its organizational impact goals is its commitment to treating these initiatives with as much respect as client work, wherever possible. Employees who set aside an hour or so a week to pursue positive change, whether that takes the shape of brainstorming internal fixes or organizing external events, shouldn’t feel penalized for investing in activities that ultimately better the team and authenticate the company’s social impact ambitions.


. One point of consensus among all of the evening’s panelists was that having company leadership not only be aware of employees social impact ambitions, but actively supportive of them, is the most important motivator to cultivating action in staff. Often, employees are willing to take on more than their regular workload to help their company be its best and improve its community, but management’s commitment to either leading or supporting these efforts is what really convinces them to lean in and get involved.

Get leadership on board


Support self-care. As more of us become moved to take on social impact in our work and lives, the concept of burn-out has never been more real. Companies who can offer employees tackling social impact at work little moments of compassion, whether in the form of time for lunches or other breaks, sensitivity around personal or work-from-home days, or other gestures of support, will only become more beloved by their team.


These tips offer some initial food-for-thought for companies looking to encourage a social impact-minded staff, but of course this topic is one that will continue to need nourishment. Evaluating whether your workplace supports social impact participation can start a series of tough but crucial conversations that will hold your leadership accountable, empower your employees, and ultimately help create a better world.

Catherine Addo Strategy Director