Recently, Parade Magazine published a feature that posed the question “Is the American Dream Still Possible?” Eighty percent of the respondents to an October 2005 survey of 2,200 middle-income Americans believe that it is possible to achieve the American Dream despite the fact that 66 percent live paycheck to paycheck and 47 percent say that no matter how hard they work, they cannot get ahead.

Two other survey responses back Parade‘s claim that those who were polled “showed both skepticism and hope” in their answers. While 89 percent of respondents believe that businesses have a social responsibility to their employees and to the community, 81 percent believe that American businesses make decisions based on what is best for their shareholders – not what is best for their employees.

This data suggests that there is a perception that businesses cannot demonstrate social responsibility to their employees and to the community and please their shareholders at the same time. In fact, study after study demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between every measure of business success and workplaces that act on what is best for employees and for their communities.

The contradictions in this data hint that there might be more to the American dream than financial security. In fact, Jeffrey Hollender, author of the bookWhat Matters Most, indicates that “workers and managers are seeking opportunities to do good and are waiting for someone to structure an activity that they can participate in that will allow them to make positive contributions to their community.” Further, in research supporting the Gallup employee survey, Amy Wrzesniewski finds that “employees who can connect their work to a larger, meaningful mission or purpose of the overall organization are likely to have higher levels of interest and ownership for organizational outcomes.”

Could it be that having a sense of mission and purpose is connected to employees’ perceptions of their access to the American Dream? Our experience indicates that may be the case. In recent years we have become acquainted with many leaders of small and midsize organizations whose sense of mission includes a commitment to both their employees and to their communities and whose businesses benefit as a result.

Take Boston-based Dancing Deer Baking Company, led by President and CEO Trish Karter. Prominent on the firm’s website is its commitment to donate 35 percent of the retail price for each sale of its “Sweet Home” products to help homeless families find jobs and move into homes of their own. Last year the company funded three scholarships provided by One Family, a nonprofit organization devoted to ending family homelessness in Massachusetts, and they proudly state that there is no limit on the contributions that they are willing to make through this product line.

Or consider Kansas City-based integrated brand marketing agency Creative Consumer Concepts (C3), which is committed to helping employees help the world, one country at a time. Led by Bob Cutler, the agency has developed a Global Community Service Program that provides employees with paid time off and expenses to volunteer internationally. Since 2004 this program has funded eight employee trips to countries like Thailand, Ethiopia, Romania, and the Republic of Georgia.

Then there’s Pro Motion, Inc., a marketing communications agency in St. Louis. Led by President Steve Randazzo, Pro Motion has been affiliated with St. Louis-based Angels’ Arms, a grassroots organization that provides foster homes for children “until a forever home is found.” The company recently raised $15,000 for Angels’ Arms at a bowling party and employees volunteer in Angels’ Arms facilities, painting rooms and cleaning carpets and bathrooms. Read more about what makes Pro Motion a workplace success by clicking here.

There is no coincidence that all of these leaders were nominated by their employees to be recognized as Best Bosses in 2005. In every instance the commitment to creating a good workplace and to improving the larger community resulted in a sense of purpose and mission on the part of employees, helping to retain workers and motivating their discretionary commitment to their jobs.

The commitments of these companies demonstrate that they consider their stakeholders to include customers, suppliers, employees, and their broader communities, sometimes defined as their neighborhood and sometimes defined as the globe. They are leaders in a change of perception that Hollender refers to as “a fundamental shift that is occurring in society and business, one that is making responsible corporate behavior an imperative rather than something that a handful of businesses choose to do.”