When Corporate Social Responsibility Increases Performance: Exploring the Role of Intrinsic and Extrinsic CSR Attribution

Executive Summary

This study investigates whether employees can distinguish between intrinsic (i.e., moral) and extrinsic (strategic) CSR motives — and whether these motives influence employee performance.

The study found that employee effort and task performance increase when employees believe that their employer has both moral and strategic motives for its CSR activities.

While consumer may reject CSR practices viewed as strategic or defensive (Vlachos et al. 2009; Groza et al. 2011), those practices are still important to employees.  According to Joana Story and Pedro Neves: “We believe that this is related to the stakes employees have with the firm: while they wish the firm to behave in morally consistent ways, they also wish the firm to be smart about how they do it. They are more invested (than consumers) in the future sustainability of the firm, and they do not wish for the firm to invest in practices that may not generate value in return.”
Research Notes

Survey Sample:

The survey sample was 229 employee–supervisor dyads from 18 Portuguese companies with CSR programs, representing multiple industries.


Intrinsic attribution: “Intrinsic CSR practices can be described as practices perceived as sincere. That is, organizations engage in these practices because they actually care. In this case, if an organization invests in a charity, employees truly believe that the organization cares for the cause. This attribution is related to the moral aspect of the firm, in which stakeholders trust the ‘benevolent’ character of the organization as the true values of the firm.”

Extrinsic attribution: “Extrinsic CSR practices are those perceived to be done with the intention of getting something back or to avoid some kind of punishment from the community in general (Vlachos et al. 2013). This does not mean that organizational practices are ineffective or not good for the community, but that stakeholders (e.g. employees) may perceive that the organization is being strategic in its investment.”

Similar CSR-Impact Research on Employees

Prior research into the impact of CSR on employees has examined:

  • general satisfaction (Valentine & Fleischman 2008)
  • job applicant perceptions of companies (Turban & Greening 1997)
  • turnover intention (Hansen et al. 2011)
  • organizational citizenship behavior (Lin et al. 2010; Hansen et al. 2011)
  • team performance (Lin et al. 2012)
  • organizational commitment (Brammer et al. 2007; Turker 2009b)
  • job satisfaction (Brammer et al. 2007; Vlachos et al. 2013)
  • employee-company identification (Kim et al. 2010; McShane & Cunningham 2012)
  • employee connections (McShane & Cunningham 2012)
  • leadership styles (Groves & LaRocca 2011; Du et al. 2013)
  • organization identification (De Roeck & Delobbe 2012)

Similar CSR-Impact Research on Consumers

The researchers cite a similar study which was done by Ellen et al. (2006) but on a different audience (consumers).  Consumers attribute different motives to CSR engagement, including:

  • egoistic-driven motives, in which the firm is more interested in exploiting a cause than helping it
  • strategic-driven motives, in which the firm wishes to  increase  sales  or  mitigate risks or harm
  • stakeholder-driven motives, in which the firm engages in CSR owing to stakeholder pressure
  • values-driven motives, in which the firm engages in CSR because they believe it is the right thing to do

Ellen et al found that different attributions lead to different likelihoods of purchase intention and recommending the product to others.  

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Publication Date



Business Ethics A European Review


Joana Story, Pedro Neves

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