Rising expectations towards corporate social responsibility in hypermodern times and how we can identify socially conscious publics
by Sarah Marschlich (Department of Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich, Switzerland)
& Ganga Dhanesh (College of Communication and Media Sciences, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates)
Organizations have increasingly paid attention to their various ethical, social, environmental, or even political responsibilities. Examples of these can be seen aplenty, especially during the recent onslaught of the global health pandemic that started in 2019 and the war in Ukraine in 2022.
For instance, companies that have successfully managed organization-employee relationships during the pandemic have responded with responsible measures, including empathetic leadership communication and employee well-being programs. In addition, corporations increasingly participate in public discussions on socially relevant topics, such as gender equality, environmental issues, or education, advocate for political issues, including immigration and human rights, or take a public stance on controversial issues. When war erupted in Europe, companies across various sectors announced that they were pulling out of Russia or suspending operations in the country owing to pressure from governments, shareholders, employees, and the public. They were committed to doing the right thing and avoiding potential reputational damage. For instance, consulting and accounting firm KPMG International announced that Russia and Belarus firms will leave the KPMG network, citing that they are a “purpose-led and values-driven organization that believes in doing the right thing” (Walters, 2022).
One of the key drivers of responsible organizational behavior has been pressure from publics who want to buy products from, join, support, and invest in organizations that contribute positively to society. However, one of the enduring questions in research on corporate social responsibility and neighboring concepts such as social advocacy has been whether stakeholders truly care about companies meeting their environmental, social, and governance responsibilities and how we can identify socially conscious publics. Called the attitude-behavior gap, stakeholders are supposed to reward companies for meeting their myriad responsibilities, but their behavior does not reflect their talk of support, except for the demographic category of millennials, who have been shown to demand and reward responsible behavior from companies. However, considering how companies have been responding to the exigencies of the pandemic and the war, one can safely assume that stakeholder pressure is emanating from a far larger group than just the demographic category of millennials.
To address this issue, we suggested employing the theoretical lens of hypermodernity and identifying a psychographic category of socially and environmentally conscious individuals. The concept of hypermodernity, as discussed by the French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky (2005), has been applied to advanced data-driven societies since the 1980s. Hypermodern individuals exhibit contradictory tendencies wherein extreme narcissism, materialism, and cynicism are offset with an inclination towards sociability, voluntary work, experientialism, and moral indignation towards the marginalized and the oppressed. Applying the concept of hypermodernity (Dhanesh, 2020; Lipovetsky, 2005), employing a systematic review of research within the fields of communication, psychology, and management, and conducting a survey, we created and tested an instrument to identify socially conscious publics on a continuum of hypermodernity. The instrument can be used to identify individuals who may exhibit a deep sense of social consciousness.
We argue that the theoretical framework of hypermodernity can explain the rising tide of consciousness among broad swathes of publics for social and environmental causes rampant in contemporary societies and companies’ subsequent response to these publics who demand responsible behavior from companies. The instrument we developed to identify people with hypermodern characteristics goes beyond demographic data and thus allows linking individuals’ characteristics and preferences and their demands towards corporate social responsibility. This, in turn, has implications for public relations and strategic communication strategies related to corporate responsibility, which could consider forms of storytelling, audiovisual communication, and events to engage stakeholders tailored to the proposed hypermodern characteristics. Perhaps it is time to reassess the notion of the attitude-behavior gap and understand socially conscious publics using the theoretical framework of hypermodernity to respond to their needs, wants, and demands effectively.
Dhanesh, G.S. (2020). Who cares about organizational purpose and corporate social responsibility, and how can organizations adapt? A hypermodern perspective. Business Horizons, 63(4), 585–594.
Lipovetsky, G. (2005). Hypermodern Times. Cambridge.
Walters, M. (2022). IMPORTANT UPDATE: Russia/Belarus. Retrieved from https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/media/press-releases/2022/03/important-update-russia-belarus.html