Using social values for profit belittles them, warns a new study.
Toronto – Businesses sometimes align with important values such as a clean environment, feminism or racial justice, believing it’s win-win: value is increased along with business results.
But beware, warns new research from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Using these values primarily for personal purposes such as profit or reputation can ultimately undermine their special status and erode people’s commitment to them.
“This sets a different standard for the appropriate use of value,” says Rachel Ruttan, research author, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Rotman School, who co-authored the study with Loran Nordgren, professor of management and organizations. at the Kellogg School of Management. “These are things that we are meant to pursue as ends in themselves and it changes the way people might think about it.”
In multiple studies involving hundreds of participants, Dr Ruttan found that people exposed to more interesting uses of “sacred” values not only showed less consideration for those values afterwards, but were less willing to do so. a donation to causes that supported them.
A social media post wishing “Happy Earth Day,” from NASCAR, the production car racing organization, reduced people’s subsequent respect for the annual environmental protection event, compared to a post similar to a group dedicated to ecological conservation. In another study, participants with knowledge of a 2015 “paid patriotism” scandal, in which the National Football League was found to have accepted money from the US military for the presentation of flags on the day. of the match and to honor the military, were less concerned with the patriotic displays than those who were unaware of the matter.
Participants in another study were less likely to donate to an environmental cause after reading a fictitious report in which many organizations launched pro-environmental campaigns in search of profit.
Usually, values that are clearly under threat trigger people’s moral outrage, for example when money intended to promote diversity in the workplace is reallocated to cover other expenses. But this impulse is not activated when the value seems to be at least superficially taken care of – even if it is really being exploited for a very different purpose. This less pure use is subtly normalized and this is how the status of value ends up being corrupted, explains Professor Ruttan.
Yet it is possible for an organization to associate with social values and not diminish them, she says. But organizations must show a “legitimate commitment” to value. She cites the example of an eco-branded clothing company that discourages customers from buying spare parts for its jackets, offering to repair used jackets instead.
“It’s a real commitment to sustainability, where they actively bear a cost,” says Prof Ruttan.
Consumers, on the other hand, should think critically about the campaigns they see and refrain from being automatically guided by how to think about the values these campaigns seem to promote.
“Grassroots action is always important and maintaining our own commitment to these causes is always invaluable in the face of all this information,” says Professor Ruttan.