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CSR and its impact on employee engagement and development

David Saul, managing director of the leading serviced office operator Business Environment, on how commitment to CSR delivers more than reputational benefits.

  • CSR is increasingly recognised as a key component of employee engagement
  • Companies have to be consistent, empowering and personal in their approach to CSR
  • The win-win of the correct CSR approach embedded at the heart of a company’s ethos

Few people would argue with the fact that employees tend to be happier when working for companies that offer high pay and a generous holiday allowance. Increasingly, however, employers are recognising that there’s far more to creating positive working environment than this.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that employees tend to be happier at companies they’re proud to work for, which means a company’s ethos can play a significant role in determining whether staff are motivated to give their all during the working day. However, the role CSR plays in enhancing a company’s reputation among its own employees, subsequently boosting their motivation and engagement, is perhaps underrated.

Of course, the main reason businesses should be committed to CSR is because acting as a responsible corporate citizen is simply the right thing to do. Beyond this, many view their efforts in this area as an important step in managing their reputation among external stakeholders.

The result of this is that companies often aren’t engaging their own employees via their CSR initiatives as effectively as they could. In order to address this, business’s approach to CSR should be consistent, empowering and personal. Here’s why:

Consistent

Employees at a company that has no policy on recycling but stages an annual litter clean-up might become cynical about the genuineness of their firm’s desire to make a positive difference to society. Likewise, this could be true of a firm that encourages volunteering but has made no attempt to reduce its energy use.

A business could well be genuinely committed to improving society in the one area in which it focuses its efforts. Its employees, however, are likely to view a one-dimensional approach to CSR as an indication that the activity is motivated mainly by a desire to manage the firm’s reputation among external stakeholders. Employees are closer to the business and therefore far more likely to notice an inconsistent approach to CSR than external stakeholders. Because of this, CSR really needs to be embedded at the heart of a company’s ethos, rather than viewed as a mere add-on. Instead, it should dictate the way the company operates across the board.

Empowering 

Empowering employees to be more sustainable is crucial – whether on a day-to-day basis or as part of an occasional CSR drive. Much like consistency, enabling employees to participate in CSR can demonstrate the genuineness of a company’s commitment to being socially responsible – it underlines the fact that a firm wants to do more than just make the right noises. Moreover, it’s clear that CSR will more effectively engage employees if those who wish to take part are able to do so.

One of the most effective ways to empower employees to get involved is to offer them time off work, on top of their usual holiday allowance, so that they can support a charity or good cause. A study conducted last year by the employee engagement software provider LeapCR found that some 63 per cent of employees believe being given time off in this way would significantly improve employee engagement.

Otherwise, simple steps such as offering a financial incentive to staff who cycle to work or ensuring recycling points are installed throughout the office can prove important. The key here is that rather than struggling to find the time to get involved in CSR, employees are motivated and encouraged to feel proud of their company through being given the opportunity to live out its values.

Personal

Personal is nearly always better than generic and CSR is no exception. The best way to engage employees via CSR is to ensure your company is making a difference in ways your team care about. Whether conducting a survey to find out which charity they wish to support, or offering company sponsorship for individuals conducting their own fundraising initiatives, firms will receive greater buy-in from staff if they tailor their CSR activity to correspond with the issues their employees engage with.

Ensuring a comprehensive CSR policy is in place and embedded at the heart of a business can not only enable companies to make a genuine difference to society, but also deliver a tangible benefit to the firm.

With research by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealing that employee turnover is costing UK firms over £40 billion a year, the business case for effective employee engagement, including CSR, is very strong indeed.

Businesses worried about the cost of implementing a CSR programme should recognise how it can deliver true win-wins, engaging and improving brand reputation among external and internal stakeholders, as well as ensuring employees are proud of the company they work for and motivated to perform at their best.

David Saul David Saul is Managing Director of Business Environment.