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Employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility and creativity: Employee engagement as a mediator.

Employee creativity has become an increasingly important determinant of organizational performance, success, and long-term survival (Anderson, Potocnik, & Zhou, 2014). In the organizational context, creativity refers to the generation of new ideas about products, processes, or procedures that may be useful to the organization (Shalley & Gilson, 2004). Employee creativity (EC) can be affected by contextual factors, such as challenging work, organizational encouragement, freedom, sufficient resources, and workload pressure (Amabile, 1988). EC is closely associated with ethical context, because engagement in corporate social responsibility activities benefits others, and the supportive climate that results from these activities leads to the development of an atmosphere of openness and freedom and to employees being more creative (Valentine, Godkin, & Varca, 2010). Thus, the influence of employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility on their creativity has gained the attention of researchers and practitioners (Hur, Moon, & Ko, 2018).

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is defined as "context-specific organizational actions and policies that take into account stakeholders' expectations and the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental performance" (Aguinis, 2011, p. 855). Although researchers have found that EC can be affected by employees' perceptions of CSR, to our knowledge, few researchers have investigated the mechanism underlying this link from a cognitive or behavioral perspective (Brammer, He, & Mellahi, 2015; Glavas & Piderit, 2009).

We explored the mediating effect of employee engagement in the relationship between employees' perceptions of CSR and EC, because a positive correlation between CSR and employee engagement has been found (Hur et al., 2018). Engaged employees become creative and put extra effort into their work to prove their commitment and loyalty to the organization (Wagner & Harter, 2006). Previous researchers have suggested that employee engagement impacts positively on organizational productivity and profitability (Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2003), competitive advantage (Lockwood, 2007), and reputation (Luthans & Peterson, 2002).

We also examined the moderating effect of perceived organizational support in the relationship between employees' perceptions of CSR and EC. CSR enables employees to give more of themselves when perceived organizational support is high (vs. low), resulting in greater creativity.

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Corporate Social Responsibility

Researchers of CSR have primarily focused on institutional and organizational levels, with an emphasis on its impact on corporate performance (Aguinis & Glavas, 2012). However, those who have explored CSR at the individual level have found CSR to be positively related to employee commitment (Maignan, Ferrell, & Hult, 1999), engagement and creative involvement (Glavas & Piderit, 2009), attractiveness to job applicants (Greening & Turban, 2000; Turban & Greening, 1997), and better employee relationships with consumers (Agle, Mitchell, & Sonnenfeld, 1999).

Although the positive relationship between CSR and employees' performance has been established, it is still unknown how and why CSR influences employees (Glavas, 2016). Measurements at the individual (vs. organizational) level can be more accurate and reflect the degree of CSR that is adopted in the organization (Glavas & Kelley, 2014). However, few researchers have focused on mediators at the individual level (Grant & Mayer, 2009; Hur et al., 2018). It is important to understand employees' perceptions of CSR because these can significantly influence workplace attitudes, behavior, and performance (Cable & Judge, 1996; Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison, & Sowa, 1986).

Employee Creativity

EC can be influenced by both individual qualities and environmental factors in the work environment (Amabile, 1988). Helson (1999) showed that cognitive style, openness to experience, and personal motivation are some individual differences that are linked to EC. Cummings and Oldham (1997) proposed three key features of the work environment that may facilitate creativity in those employees who have high creative potential and innovative problem-solving styles, and who are excited by their work environment: job complexity, supportive and noncontrolling supervision, and stimulating coworkers. In addition, the style of leadership (Den Hartog & Belschak, 2012), the type of information-sharing system (Li & Sandino, 2018), and human resources system (Liu, Gong, Zhou, & Huang, 2016), each enhances or reduces employee creativity.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Creativity

Researchers have shown that the implementation of CSR changes employee attitudes and behavior because it encourages them to increase their commitment to the organization by creating a positive image (Ellemers, de Gilder, & Haslam, 2004). Further, researchers have reported that CSR is related to employee engagement (Kenexa Research Institute, 2007; Pohle & Hittner, 2008), and Perrin (2003) stated that CSR is one of the most important drivers of employee engagement. These results are consistent with survey data showing that employees' perceptions of CSR lead to positive job attitudes, job satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behavior (Baker, Hunt, & Andrews, 2006; Valentine, Godkin, & Lucero, 2002).

CSR is an organization's commitment to contribute to sustained development by working with employees, their families, the local community, and society (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2002). As CSR activities induce in employees a sense that work is meaningful, this enhances their productivity and creativity (Brammer et al., 2015). In addition, employees' perceptions of CSR produce a collective consciousness so that they feel there is a caring and supportive climate in the organization (Pandey & Gupta, 2008). This promotes a free and unconstrained work environment, so that employees can develop innovative products and services (Glavas & Piderit, 2009). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility will be positively correlated with employee creativity.

Mediating Role of Employee Engagement

Employee engagement involves harnessing organization members' selves to their work roles, such that they employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally (Kahn, 1990). Researchers have previously shown that there is a positive correlation between CSR and employee engagement. For example, Hur et al. (2018) found that employees' engagement in CSR enhances the positive role of EC. Caligiuri, Mencin, and Jiang (2013) also found a positive relationship between CSR and employee engagement.

From the social exchange theory perspective, there are two forms of exchange in organizations: economic and social (Blau, 1964; Settoon, Bennett, & Liden, 1996). Economic exchange between employees and the organization is usually a monetary reward; by contrast, social exchange concerns nonmonetary aspects. Different approaches are taken in organizations in regard to engaging employees through CSR, which can be viewed as a kind of social exchange (Mirvis, 2012). For example, in the transactional approach, CSR meets the needs of employees who want to take part in CSR activities, whereas the relational approach is based on a psychological contract that emphasizes CSR (Mirvis, 2012). Engaged employees dedicate physical, cognitive, and emotional resources to fulfil their job roles through high energy levels and enthusiasm for their work, leading to creative behavior (Karatepe, 2013). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: The relationship between employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility and employee creativity will be mediated by employee engagement.

Moderating Role of Perceived Organizational Support

Perceived organizational support refers to employees' perceptions of the extent to which the management and supervisory staff of the organization value their contribution and care about their well-being (Eisenberger et al., 1986). Eisenberger, Fasolo, and Davis-LaMastro (1990) observed that employees show more organizational commitment, enhanced performance, and decreased withdrawal behavior in exchange for supervisory support, a favorable work environment, or other rewards.

Researchers have found a positive link between perceived organizational support and individual creativity (George & Zhou, 2001). Perceived organizational support for creativity may be conceptualized as an organizational culture in which creative ideas are recognized, creative work is rewarded, and creative vision is fostered (Amabile, 1995). Employees will dedicate physical, cognitive, and emotional resources to their job and increase their creativity, according to the strength of the positive relationship between their perceptions of CSR and EC. At the same time, perceived organizational support provides a safe environment for employee engagement, resulting in more creativity (Rich, LePine, & Crawford, 2010). However, when perceived organizational support does not protect employees, for example, when employees perceive that their well-being is lower than it is in other companies in the same industry, they tend to disengage and decrease their creativity (Kahn, 1990). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Perceived organizational support will have a positive moderating effect on the relationship between employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility and employee creativity, such that when perceived organizational support is high (vs. low), employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility will have a stronger positive effect on employee creativity.

The research framework is shown in Figure 1.


Participants and Procedure

Data were collected from employees at the Malawi Revenue Authority, National Bank of Malawi, Standard Bank of Malawi, and New Building Society Bank, in Malawi, Africa. A snowball approach was used to invite the employees to participate in the study through paper surveys or email. We distributed 322 survey forms, of which 278 were usable, 26 were rejected owing to incomplete information, and 16 were discarded because they were completed by employees with less than 6 months' work experience. Recent employees were considered not to have had enough time to experience organizational CSR activities and support. Demographic characteristics of participants are shown in Table 1.


To collect data, we created a survey based on our conceptual model (see Figure 1). We used four scales adopted from four different studies to measure CSR, employee engagement, perceived organization support, and EC (see Table 2). As all participants spoke English, it was not necessary to translate any of the measures used. All responses were scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Employees' perceptions of CSR were measured with the four-item scale developed by Perez and Rodriguez del Bosque (2013). Employee engagement was measured with Block, Glavas, Mannor, and Erskine's (2017) four-item scale. Perceived organizational support was measured with the six-item scale developed by Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, and Herron (1996). Finally, we measured employee creativity using a five-item scale (Coelho & Augusto, 2008).


Reliability, Validity, and Common Method Bias

The measurement scales were subjected to a commonly used validation process to assess their reliability and validity. First, items with factor loadings lower than .60 were removed. Second, the reliability of the constructs was evaluated with Cronbach's alpha and composite reliability values (see Table 2). The constructs were highly reliable, as the lowest value (.81) exceeded the .70 cutoff. The measures exhibited strong reliability, with composite reliability values ranging from .82 to .93. We assessed discriminant validity following Fornell and Larcker's (1981) procedure. All average variances extracted were above .50 (see Table 2) and the square root of the average variance extracted of each construct exceeded the coefficients between it and the other constructs (see Table 3). Thus, the measures had acceptable discriminant validity.

Use of self-reported data can cause common method bias. However, the results of Harman's single-factor test (Podsakoff & Organ, 1986) indicate that the first factor's variance interpretation rate before rotation was less than 50% (42.40%). In addition, as the correlation coefficients between the constructs were all lower than .90 (see Table 3), common method bias was not a serious problem in this study.

Hypothesis Testing

We assessed the proposed model (see Figure 1) using partial least squares analysis with SmartPLS 3.0 (Ringle, Wende, & Becker, 2015). Partial least squares analysis is robust against nonnormality (Wei & Lu, 2014) and outliers and can, therefore, maximize the percentage of explained variance.

We evaluated the structural model using SmartPLS 3.0 with 5,000 bootstrapping resamples with no sign changes. The model predicted 27.5% and 43.6% of the variance in employee engagement and employee creativity, respectively. Because these percentages of variance explained exceeded 10%, we concluded that the model had adequate predictive power. In addition, we controlled for key variables that might influence EC, such as total experience in the current organization, total corporate experience in the banking sector, gender, and age. The results showed that no control variable had a significant effect on the endogenous constructs (see Table 4).

To test the hypotheses, we compared the t value of each path coefficient: The values 1.96, 2.56, and 3.29 were significant at .05, .01, and .001, respectively. Hypotheses were supported if the p value exceeded .05. The path analysis (see Table 4) results show that employees' perceptions of CSR had a significantly positive effect on EC and employee engagement. In addition, employee engagement had a significantly positive effect on EC; thus, Hypotheses 1 and 2 were supported. The interaction effect of CSR and perceived organizational support also had a significantly positive effect on EC. As shown in Figure 2, when perceived organizational support was high, CSR had a positive impact on EC, whereas when perceived organizational support was low, CSR had a negative impact on EC. Hypothesis 3 was, thus, supported. As recommended by Baron and Kenny (1986), we conducted a regression analysis to test the mediating effect between each variable in the model. As shown in Table 5, there were significant partial mediation effects of employee engagement on CSR and EC.


Theoretical Implications

The results of our empirical exploration of the effect of employees' perceptions of CSR on EC show that there was a positive relationship between these variables. CSR activities induce a sense that employees' work is meaningful (Brammer et al., 2015) and produce a caring and supportive work climate (Pandey & Gupta, 2008), which promotes EC. In addition, although Hur et al. (2018) suggested that employees' empathy and intrinsic motivation explain the association between their perceptions of CSR and EC, we found that employee engagement mediated the relationship between their perceptions of CSR and EC. Finally, our results show that perceived organizational support moderated the positive relationship between CSR and EC, which was more pronounced when perceived organizational support was high than when it was low.

Perceived organizational support is the boundary between CSR and EC, and when it provides a safe environment for employees, CSR promotes employee engagement and creativity (Rich et al., 2010). However, when employees perceive that they do not have organizational support, the fact that the organization undertakes socially responsible activities does not promote engagement and creativity among the employees (Kahn, 1990).

Practical Implications

Our findings have important implications for organizations. In addition to monetary incentives to stimulate employee creativity, managers can also effectively influence employee creativity through a focus on ethics, for example, CSR. Thus, practitioners should reconsider the role of CSR in generating synergies that optimize EC. We also found that the degree and type of employee work engagement may be indicators of EC. Therefore, managers should understand that most employees care about their company's CSR activities, which promote or decrease their creativity through engagement (Karatepe, 2013). To improve the relationship between employees' perceptions of CSR and EC, managers should raise the level of perceived organizational support and also be aware of the interaction effect of perceived organizational support and employees' perceptions of CSR on EC. In particular, employees' perceptions of CSR result in greater EC when perceived organizational support is high.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

This study has several limitations. First, we did not investigate each of the four components of CSR, comprising philanthropic, ethical, legal, and economic responsibility (Aguinis, 2011). This may have affected our results. Future researchers could investigate the effects of these aspects to help identify which contributes most to EC (Glavas & Kelley, 2018; Hur et al., 2018). Second, Aquino and Reed (2002) have shown that when employees' moral identity is highly salient, they are more likely to be sensitive to CSR. However, we did not investigate how employees' moral identity can moderate the impact of their perceptions of CSR on EC. Future researchers could fill this gap in the literature. Finally, all of our participants worked in the banking sector, which reduces the external validity of our findings. Future researchers could, thus, investigate employees in other industries, such as educational medical services, manufacturing, and research and development (Gupta & Sharma, 2016).


This work was supported by the Research Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71402100, 71772127, 71772003, 71402002), and the Scientific Research Fund of Hainan University (kyqd[sk]1919).


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Zelin Tong (1), Liya Zhu (2), Ning Zhang (2), Lisher Livuza (3), Nan Zhou (2)

(1) Management School, Hainan University, People's Republic of China

(2) College of Management, Shenzhen University, People's Republic of China

(3) Economics and Management School, North China University of Technology, People's Republic of China

CORRESPONDENCE Ning Zhang, College of Management, Shenzhen University, 368 Nanhai Ave., Shenzhen, Guangdong 518060, People's Republic of China. Email:
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Participants

Variable                                    F    %

  Men                                      162  58.3
  Women                                    116  41.7
Age (years)
  18-25                                     46  16.5
  26-35                                    142  51.1
  36-5                                      84  30.2
  46-60                                      6   2.2
Total experience in banking sector
  Less than 1 year                          34  12.2
  1-2 years                                 57  20.5
  3-5 years                                 72  25.9
  6-10 years                                42  15.1
  More than 10 years                        73  26.3
Total experience in current organization
  Less than 1 year                          50  18.0
  1-2 years                                 78  28.1
  More than 3 years                        150  53.9

Table 2. Reliability and Validity of Each Survey Item

                                               SFL  [alpha]  CR    AVE

Employees' perceptions of CSR (Perez &              .876     .915  .729
Rodriguez del Bosque, 2013)
  Our company uses part of its budget for     .800
  donations and social projects to
  advance the situation of the most
  underprivileged groups of society
  Our company plays a role in society         .872
  beyond the generation of economic
  Our company is concerned about              .885
  improving the well-being of society
  Our company behaves responsibly             .856
  regarding the environment
Employee engagement (Block et al., 2017)            .894     .934  .825
  I am proud to say that I work for           .903
  [my organization]
  I rarely think about looking for a          .883
  new job with another organization
  Overall, I would say this is a              .938
  great place to work [organization]
  Overall, I would say this is a              .576
  great place to work [work group]
Perceived organizational support
(Amabile et al., 1996)                              .896     .927  .761
  The supervisory encouragement is            .847
  Our work groups receive enough support      .860
  from the organization
  We receive sufficient resources             .827
  during assignments
  When assigned challenging work, the         .950
  organization fully supports us
  The organizational encouragement            .429
  in my workplace is high
  We get more freedom in our                  .524
  workplace than others do in theirs
Employee creativity (Coelho & Augusto, 2008)        .807     .823  .632
  I experiment with new approaches            .762
  when performing my job
  When new trends develop, I am usually       .772
  the first to get on board
  My boss feels that I am creative            .780
  in performing my job
  On the job, I am inventive when it          .863
  comes to overcoming challenges
  I try to be as creative as I can            .587
  in my job

Note. CSR = corporate social responsibility, SFL = standardized factor
loading, CR = composite reliability, AVE = average variance extracted.

Table 3. Correlation Coefficients for Study Variables

     CSR   EC    EE    POS

CSR  .854
EC   .419  .795
EE   .524  .520  .908
POS  .268  .396  .568  .872

Note. CSR = employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility,
EC = employee creativity, EE = employee engagement, POS = perceived
organizational support.

Table 4. Structural Model Path Analysis

Path                     [beta]    M     SD       t     p

H1:CSR [right arrow] EC   .181    0.180  0.071   2.556  .011 (*)
H2: CSR [right arrow]EE   .524    0.527  0.044  11.952  .001 (**)
H2: EE [right arrow] EC   .307    0.292  0.063   4.840  .001 (**)
H3: Interaction
effect [right arrow] EC   .328    0.301  0.159   2.071  .038 (*)
Control variables:
Age [right arrow] EC      .109    0.101  0.069   1.570  .116
ECE [right arrow] EC     -.086   -0.085  0.056   1.523  .128
TCE [right arrow] EC     -.079   -0.074  0.078   1.020  .308
Gender [right arrow] EC  -.013   -0.021  0.046   0.274  .784

Note. CSR = employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility,
EC = employee creativity, EE = employee engagement, ECE = existing
corporate experience in current organization, TCE = total corporate
experience in banking sector.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .001.

Table 5. Results of Mediation Effect Test

IV M DV    IV [right arrow] DV  [R.sup.2]  IV [right arrow] M  [R.sup.2]

CSR EE EC  .432 (**)            .179       .532 (**)           .283

IV M DV    IV + M [right arrow] DV  [R.sup.2]
           IV        M

CSR EE EC  .193 (*)  .420 (**)      .299

IV M DV    POS (IV + M [right arrow] DV)  [R.sup.2]
           IV         M

CSR EE EC  .154 (**)  .308 (**)           .423

Note. IV = independent variable, M = mediator, DV = dependent variable,
CSR = employees' perceptions of corporate social responsibility, EE =
employee engagement, EC = employee creativity, POS = perceived
organizational support.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .001.
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Author:Tong, Zelin; Zhu, Liya; Zhang, Ning; Livuza, Lisher; Zhou, Nan
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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