‘What’s the Social Compensation Package?’ 5 Ways to Attract Talent Without the Checkbook

Employee compensation packages are dropping in financial value–but this time, it’s not because of the recession alone. From MBAs to college graduates, potential employees are looking for more than stock options and dental care from their employers. In “Saving the World at Work” Tim Sanders calls this “Social Compensation–the purpose that comes with the paycheck.”

He posits that social compensation will top financial benefits as workplace incentives within the next 18 months. While I think this reversal will take a good bit longer, there is a documented shift in what employees seek from work. Without evoking Maslow or spending time on studies* and numbers substantiating what I feel many readers of this post know to be true, let’s dive into what type of social compensation packages you can use to reel in top talent.


IBM's Corporate Service Corps in Ghana

Employee Volunteer Programs

Employee volunteer programs (EVP) can take several forms: unpaid time-off to volunteer, company-organized service projects and, the most effective in my mind, paid time-off to volunteer. Timberland, ING and Shared Vision are just some of the companies that offer their teams up to 40 hours paid time-off to volunteer every year.  Seventeen years into this initiative, Timberland reports that 90% of job candidates are aware of this program and mention it in interviews, while 95% of employees volunteer at least one day yearly.  Mid-sized New York software firm, Shared Vision, balances the cost of productivity lost during these 40 hours with the opportunity to attract community-minded employees to the company.

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps is more structured.  In its second year, the program sends small teams of top employees from around the world to developing regions for one month. There, they work on projects that connect business, technology and society.

If you’re ready to launch your own EVP or strengthen its fundamentals, two great sources are The Corporation for National and Community Service’s ten steps to designing a meaningful employee volunteer program (and 23 reasons why you should); and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ six essential strengths of an employee volunteer program as shared by Managing Director Shannon Schuyler.

SRI By Pension Funds

Socially responsible investing by pensions funds has been popular in Europe for a dozen years or so, but slower to catch on in the United States (although the Calvert Group has offered its products to 401k plans since 1982). In this case, the investments for 401ks are ethically invested. Moreover, they often yield more stable returns and higher gains.

Energy Performance-Based Bonuses

Burt’s Bees bases bonuses partially on how well the company meets energy conservation goals, which employees and management set together. The offshoot is reduced energy costs, employee engagement and buy-in because they have a hand in setting the energy reduction goal and, of course, a boon to the environment.

There are hundreds of more nuanced programs and interpretations. What did I leave out? Which programs do you think have the greatest impact? And most importantly, what type of social compensation would inspire you to considerably lower your financial compensation expectations?

Donations By Ballot

Office supply company Give Something Back contributes more than half of after-tax profits to community organizations selected by employees and customers. No matter tenure or title, every employee gets an equal vote. Employees can also nominate new nonprofits into the pool of beneficiaries.

Employee Grants (and Matching Gifts)

The auditing and tax firm KPMG awards 16 service-committed employees with a $1,000 donation for their favorite non-profit. Gap, Inc. was recently in the news for a series of grants that support employees’ philanthropic work. California employee Aaryn Pratt received $50,000 to help the non-profit she volunteers with develop new programs. Her reaction was naturally laudatory, “I can’t believe I work for an organization that truly allows and encourages me to be what’s possible.”

Matching gift programs, at least as old as carbon paper, are still an attractive benefit. Employees must be inspired to give to set the act in motion, and the results aren’t scalable or necessarily enduring, but there is still value in a company getting back its employees’ philanthropy and favorite causes.

*97% of nearly 1,000 graduating MBAs from the top-ten schools said they were willing to forgo financial benefits (up to a 14% decrease) to work for an organization with strong corporate social responsibility programs and values. (Stanford Graduate School of Business, David Montgomery and Catherine Ramus).

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Leave a comment
  1. Rob Caldwell September 2, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Great points. This would be a great interview idea to take to other companies and ask them what their reasons for doing or not doing something like this would be.
    I’m going to do this within my business because I think that giving back to your community (or even outside your community) is very important and can help to make you a better person and employee. I think it gives a person time away from work to use other talents that aren’t necessarily used in the workplace. It can also help to inspire new ideas for added success at the workplace as well as a feeling of accomplishment.
    Those are my two cents anyway.

  2. admin September 2, 2009 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re incorporating social compensation into your business. Which programs in specific? Love your idea for an interview–video would be great for this.


  3. Daniel Rechel September 7, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    This is what the world is supposed to be like. Great read.. Thanks so much!
    I’m developing a clothing brand dedicating the profits to charities – the consumers will vote which organizations receive contributions.
    How should I get the staff involved??

  4. admin September 7, 2009 at 11:13 pm #


    Thanks for your comment. My broad-stroke answer is absolutely! Your employees are an extension of the brand and of you; they should embody the company’s mission by taking part and contributing to it. My view is that if you’re wise enough to give your customers a chance to participate in your social mission by nature of buying your service or product, you’re wise enough to do the same for your employees. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions. I think your objective is fantastic.


  5. Daniel Rechel November 20, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Thank you. How do I contact you directly? Can you please email me? Thanks!


  1. Why Organizations Will Impact Politics : Abhijit Bhaduri's Official Website - April 4, 2010

    […] their own ban balances, this is clearly a phase that will require companies to attract talent by social compensation by blending their CSR initiative into the economic goal. The firms still do not like to get […]