Author(s), Title and Publication:

O’Connor, A., Paskewitz, E. A., Jorgenson, D. A., & Rick, J. M. (2016). How changes in work structure influence employees’ perceptions of CSR: Millionaire managers and locked-out laborers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 44(1), 40 – 59.


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a multi-faceted concept, including dimensions of economic, legal, and ethical responsibility. Naturally, CSR has different meanings to different stakeholder groups. Among all, employees act as the “CSR ambassadors” for an organization in its community. Meanwhile, they are arguably the most common beneficiaries of organizational CSR programs. From an employee’s perspective, CSR can be defined as the social responsibilities that corporations have to their workers. Still, employees’ interpretation of CSR is highly conditional to different micro-contexts. This study explored how employee understanding of CSR is connected to the organization’s employment practices.

This study used a case study approach to examine how locked-out union workers interpret the concept of CSR. Researchers interviewed 51 locked-out workers from the company, American Crystal Sugar (ACS), which had just undergone one of the longest labor lock-outs in American history. The interviews indicated that locked-out employees interpreted CSR as (1) the manifestation of corporate values, (2) reciprocity between an organization and its employees, (3) a signal of fair treatment toward employees, (4) economic (payment) justice between top managers and other employees, and lastly, (5) the demonstration of organizational structure. The study concluded that CSR, by locked-out workers’ definition, is an involuntary set of ethical responsibilities that are shared by management and employees, and informed by organizational structure and profitability.

Implications for Practitioners

Corporations must recognize how everyday actions communicate CSR that guides employee expectations. Specifically, managers should (1) incorporate employees’ values and wills when determining CSR initiatives, (2) give attention to the social issues that employees care, in exchange for them being CSR ambassadors for the organizations, (3) consider fair wage distribution among employees and top managers a part of social responsibility to employees, and (4) recognize that various organizational structures (i.e., large-scale vs. small to medium companies) will inform different CSR expectations among employees.

Location of Article
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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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