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In the past, society broadly — and entrepreneurs specifically — tended to embrace the capitalist rubric of “profit at all costs.” However, growing income inequality and increasing awareness of sustainability and employee well-being are fueling real change. Increasingly, altruism offers a better path for leaders to build resilient, future-proof enterprises.
Words people first associate with for-profit structures likely don’t include altruism. On the contrary, the average person might offer diametrically opposed qualities, like greed and avarice. Unfortunately, this perception often perpetuates a dog-eat-dog culture, and the plain truth is that finding ways to embrace altruism as a core business value can fuel both broad societal good as well as revenue.
A tale of shifting values
People’s frustration with greed is growing, and they’re expressing it in various ways. As reported in a 2021 article in The Washington Post, employee loyalty is at an all-time low, reflective in part of the fact that the average worker typically receives little more than a paycheck in exchange for work. Largely gone are the days of fringe benefits, pension plans and generous vacation time allocations.
Moreover, anxiety about growing economic inequality is increasing. Wealth disparities in countries like the U.S. are greater than ever, leading populations to face the possibility of their children winding up worse off than they are. In response, people are starting to think more broadly and deeply about how companies’ values reflect their own.
One result of this is the growth of a new economic segment: the socially-conscious consumer. Among other qualities, these people think about the concept of wealth in wider terms than the simple accumulation of material things and are increasingly demanding that employers reflect this outlook. A remarkable 2022 Qualtrics survey found that 56% of respondents “…wouldn’t even consider a job at a company that has values they disagree with, while a 2020 CNBC/Momentive survey found that “40% of workers say they would likely quit their job if their organization took a stand on a political issue they do not agree with.”
In other words, we’re witnessing the growth of altruism in the business world from the ground up.
Turning altruism into an advantage
Entrepreneurs have much to gain from making a practice of disinterested and selfless concern. In doing so, they can generate tremendous value within companies, enhance employee loyalty and engender public trust, gaining significant advantages over firms still prioritizing the bottom line above all else.
Here are a few ways to make it a core business practice:
- Prioritize employee well-being: A business that puts staff members’ needs above its own is more likely to have loyal employees that demonstrate altruism themselves, according to a 2022 report by the Research Journal of Management Practice. This could be achieved by providing paid leave during significant life events — extending beyond maternity and paternity leave to cover unexpected lapses in childcare coverage, as well as caring for a sick family member or attending to the mental health of a loved one. Offering remote work options can also help gain employee trust.
- Build value-based business connections: Entrepreneurs might be wise to consider a policy of only doing business with firms that share their values, extending this approach to the way they connect clients with trusted partners. This arrangement can be mutually beneficial, even if it means choosing a partner that costs a bit more. Building industry partnerships based on shared beliefs rather than rote costs can lead to more sustainable and meaningful connections.
Embracing an altruistic future
Our world is already changing, with consumers, employees and the general public demanding more from companies. Entrepreneurs can embrace this change and use it to build entities that stand the test of time. “Doing well by doing good” has the potential to not only produce financial success but also create a more fulfilling and meaningful entrepreneurial journey — with benefits that include increased employee loyalty and public trust, as well as a growing market of socially-conscious consumers.
Here are some additional strategies for integrating this spirit into entrepreneurial ventures:
- Embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR): CSR initiatives that address social, environmental and economic issues relevant to your industry and community not only actively contribute to the well-being of society and the environment, but also demonstrate a business’s commitment to altruism, and will foster goodwill among customers and stakeholders alike.
- Encourage a culture of giving back: Promote volunteerism and philanthropy within your organization by offering employees, say, paid time off for volunteer work, or matching their charitable donations. Such a culture can enhance staff morale and strengthen a company’s reputation as a socially responsible enterprise.
- Practice transparent communication: Be open and honest with employees, customers and stakeholders about business practices, goals and challenges. Transparency fosters trust and demonstrates a commitment to ethics. So, share your successes and setbacks in implementing forward-thinking policies, and use the resulting feedback to make improvements.
- Create an ethical supply chain: Work with suppliers that share your commitment to altruism, ensuring that they adhere to ethical labor practices, maintain sustainable operations and minimize their environmental impact. This can create a positive ripple effect that benefits all parties involved. A Business of Sustainability Index by GreenPrint revealed that 68% of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable goods and otherwise support eco-conscious companies.
- Measure and report on your impact: Regularly assess and report on the social, environmental, and economic impact of your business practices. By quantifying progress and sharing results, you showcase a commitment to altruism and inspire others to follow suit.