01 Dec 2020
As part of Sasin’s Research Seminar series, Dr. Enrico Fontana recently gave a talk to Sasin faculty and staff on The calling of CSR: A study on the journey of CSR practitioners through self-work. Dr. Enrico’s study follows the development stages of a person whose business career takes place within a single domain – that of Corporate Social Responsibility. Dr. Enrico submits that professionals in the CSR field are something of a special occupational case in that the profession attracts those drawn to purposeful work typically characterized as a calling. Specifically, Dr. Enrico and his team seek to explain “how a calling shared by professionals within the same occupational domain mutates in convergence with their career stage,” and more specifically, to track the professionalization of CSR practitioners. CSR work qualifies as a calling for being “desired and meaningful work for the individual.” Moreover, “at the organizational level, “living a calling is conducive to higher affective work commitment” as well as overall better organizational performance. However, one open question concerns the degree to which a calling changes over time. To try to answer this, Dr. Enrico’s team researched the perspectives of practitioners towards their calling over the courses of their careers. He and his team personally interviewed 57 CSR professionals employed by large Swedish-headquartered companies. CSR practitioners “are often characterized by a strong inner passion and burning enthusiasm towards social causes.” Moreover, they have been willing “to give up monetary rewards in exchange for feelings of meaningfulness and personal gratification.” They often find their work decoupled from the core work of the company and thus less valued. They are frequently tasked with bridging the gap between the company’s profit-seeking activities on the one hand and social commitments, on the other. Demands imposed by a company’s social obligations contrasted from its business objectives create an ever changing state of permanent tension. Add to this the passion that CSR specialists bring to their work, and to their function as internal change agents, and the result is a recipe for concentrated stress on practitioners and how they view their work, over time. Noticeable perception changes take place on the part of CSR employees from when they first enter the field to when they become competent and later, when they develop as professionals. Perhaps predictably given growing experience and age, they become less idealistic and more grounded as time goes by. For early-, mid-, and late-career stages, Dr. Enrico identifies practices broken down into categories—emotion work; identity work; and strategy work—and then tracks changing attitudes based upon interview results. Newcomers begin their careers with an activist calling, which Dr. Enrico characterizes as “having a major social mission at the personal level, whose magnitude however contrasts with the commercial goals of the company.” As a result of this discord, practitioners resort to downplaying or camouflaging their motives to avoid having to confront objections from the business side to the performance of their social work. During this period, practitioners tend to be ideological and idealistic—and in terms of business, naïve. Moving on to mid-career, practitioners respond to a compromising calling by “juxtaposing one’s social mission with an increasing understanding and justification of the commercial goals of the company.” They appear to gradually transition to a better understanding of the needs of the business against the backdrop of a more nuanced grasp of the company’s social obligations. Some at this point continue to pursue their idealistic objectives, but independent of the company, on their own time. Finally, there is the pragmatic calling, which “entails fully adjusting one’s CSR tasks in line with the commercial goals of the company.” This can sometimes result in extreme re-positioning, with the practitioner defending the company even in the face of adverse criticism from social stakeholders because “you are working for a company. And you have to think about both interests. The company’s interest and the societal interest.” In sum, as one interviewee expressed it: “…[CSR] is changing. It’s becoming a job, just like any other job.”
Share this article
You might be interested in...
Contact Us