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Social Impact May Motivate Employees | October 2021

While salaries, bonuses, and benefits will always be powerful employee motivators, many employees are also driven by social impact and personal values. This trend is evident in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, Germany, China, and Brazil, according to Edelman.

Raising The Bar

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted values such that increased compensation is no longer a sufficient motivator for employees to work longer and harder. According to the Edelman special report which surveyed 7,000 employees across seven markets, 61% of employees select, leave, avoid, or consider employers based on values and beliefs.

Employees who leave or are considering leaving their organization often do so to find a company that is a better fit with their values (59%) and their lifestyle (50%). In contrast, only 31% of these individuals say better compensation or career advancement is one of their reasons for leaving.

Employees Are the Most Important Stakeholder

The survey also highlighted another shifting perspective. When asked to rank customers/clients, employees, communities, and shareholders in terms of their importance to a company’s long-term success, employees were the highest-ranked group. Before the pandemic, customers and clients were considered to be the most important stakeholders.

Belief-Driven Employees

According to the Edelman report, belief-driven employees are more likely than others to stay with their company for many years. They are also more likely to recommend the company to prospective employees.

More than 70% of employees said they expected opportunities at their organizations for social impact. Social impact included a business reflecting the employee’s values, having a greater purpose, doing meaningful work that shapes society, having opportunities to address social problems, and CEOs addressing controversial issues.

In addition to social impact, more and more, workplace activism is becoming the norm as employees become empowered to drive change. More than 75 percent of employees surveyed said they would take action to push for change within their organization.

With these findings in mind, companies must balance traditional incentives (e.g., pay and promotions), employee well-being (e.g., flexible hours and remote work), and social impact (e.g., a commitment to social responsibility).

In the Classroom

This article can be used to discuss stakeholders (Chapter 1: The Dynamics of Business and Economics), employee relations as it relates to social responsibility (Chapter 2: Business Ethics and Social Responsibility), and strategies for motivating employees (Chapter 9: Motivating the Workforce).

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is financial compensation no longer a sufficient incentive for employees to work longer and harder?
  2. Would you leave or have you left an employer based on values and beliefs? Explain.
  3. Why do you think customers and clients were considered to be the most important stakeholder to a company achieving long-term success pre-pandemic? Why do you think this has shifted to employees post-pandemic?

This article was developed with the support of Kelsey Reddick for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell.


Andrea Willige, "The ‘Belief-Driven’ Employee Is the Future of Work," Big Think, October 10, 2021,

Richard Edelman, "The Belief-Driven Employee," Edelman, August 31, 2021,

About the Author

Linda Ferrell is the Roth Family Professor of Marketing and Business Ethics in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Auburn University. She was formerly Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Business Ethics at Belmont University. She completed her Ph.D. in business administration, with a concentration in management, at the University of Memphis. She has taught at the University of Tampa, Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado, University of Memphis, University of Wyoming, and the University of New Mexico. She has also team-taught classes at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Profile Photo of Linda Ferrell