When one designer recently had two job offers in front of him - one that promised more pay versus one that had fewer perks but was with one of the top-ranked organizations in the area of corporate social responsibility - he took the second option, with Farm Credit Canada (FCC), a federal Crown corporation based in Saskatchewan.
"We're actually starting to notice that employees, especially the (younger ones) really care about CSR (corporate social responsibility)," says Kellie Garrett, who leads FCC's strategy, knowledge and reputation division.
"I find the young generation is looking for companies that are green and serious about CSR."
A recent study by Hewitt Associates backs up what Garrett has known for years: highly engaged employees work for companies that consistently rank high on CSR initiatives across a broad spectrum of areas.
"A lot of organizations in the CSR space have been mostly focused on things like customer relationships and community ... and only now start to look at CSR as being much more than that," says Neil Crawford, a spokesman for Hewitt.
Other CSR areas evaluated in the study include corporate governance, employee relationships, the environment, human rights and supplier relations.
All of these factors play a role in building trust and loyalty with employees, which in turn helps attract and retain the best workers and helps keep them engaged.
"If a company espouses good corporate citizenry and then actually follows through, then employees are more likely to trust that they will follow through on an internal point of view on things like HR and governance," says Garrett.
In a changing world, corporate leaders need to realize there's a lot at stake when it comes to developing a comprehensive CSR strategy.
"I think companies need to get their heads around it for recruiting employees, but also because society's expectations are rising," says Garrett.
Across all generations, particularly in the wake of the financial crisis that originated on Wall Street, the general public is becoming more acutely aware of issues such as transparency, accountability and good governance.
"Transparency and accountability to all your stakeholders is really the foundation of CSR," she says.
When companies can move away from isolated, individual programs to a more cohesive method, the return on investment is increased, says Barb Steele, director of membership for the national non-profit organization Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR).
"We take a strategic approach, moving from random acts of kindness to an integrated strategy approach and there you get a much greater impact as well as a greater return to the company," says Steele.
CBSR was launched in 1995 targeting small-and medium-sized companies, but began targeting corporate Canada in 2000 to have a larger impact. It now has 110 member companies covering all major sectors across the country.
"As we see these companies progress along the CSR continuum, the impact is tremendous through their employees, supply chain and so on," says Steele.
She built on a CSR evaluation model first articulated by Jantzi Sustainalytics as part of her graduate research, which was then refined by Hewitt as part of its annual ranking of the Best Employers in Canada.
Crawford says that while most companies in the study performed well on promoting CSR externally in areas of customer relationships and community, there was room for improvement in the other five areas they evaluated.
Garrett realizes her organization isn't facing the same shareholder pressures found in private sector companies, but says it's a matter of setting priorities and developing a policy that meets clear goals, including a return on that investment.
Crawford, meanwhile, says there is a high cost associated with letting CSR initiatives fall by the wayside.
"If (companies) were to change their focus or reduce the energy they put on CSR, that could actually erode (workers') engagement in their organization quite a bit," he says.