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The business of social responsibility

David Saul, managing director of leading serviced office operator Business Environment, explains that difficult times shouldn’t dull businesses’ charitable spirit.

Economic uncertainty is sweeping the Eurozone and beyond, leading to heated debate about how governments worldwide should respond. Some argue austerity is necessary to restore market confidence; others take a Keynesian view, warning against the ‘paradox of thrift’.

There’s also a parallel debate in the corporate world about non-essential spending and how to cut budgets.

For businesses, I believe it’s important to be wary of the paradox of thriftily abandoning charitable initiatives and CSR efforts when times are tough. In fact, CSR should lie at the heart of your business model – not just viewed as an add-on.
 
Being a socially responsible business is not just important for the communities your company operates in, but also for your brand reputation and the development opportunities it offers your employees.

It’s important CSR is viewed in this context, because few businesspeople would file enhancing their brand and developing their employees under non-essential spending.

The importance of CSR in developing employees was underlined by a recent study by the consultancy Corporate Citizenship, which examined the business case for volunteering.

Tracking the learning and development of over 500 volunteers in 16 blue-chip companies, the study showed how enabling employees to participate in charitable initiatives could actually deliver returns to businesses by reducing training and development costs.

Employees who had taken part in community work had developed their communication, coaching, influencing and negotiating abilities and were also more adaptable – valuable and transferable skills for any business, regardless of size or sector.

By giving employees a sense of pride as they make a genuine difference to their communities, the initiatives were also shown to help with staff retention.

This is why we’ve made social responsibility a central part of our company culture at Business Environment.

In order to place CSR at the heart of the business, we offer employees time off work, on top of their usual holiday allowance, so that they can carry out charitable work and support good causes.

We’ve also donated services in kind to good causes, including Rays of Sunshine, a charity helping seriously ill children, and have raised money for charities our employees have a personal connection with.

Of course, tough times can force businesses to cut costs, but as the Irish political thinker Edmund Burke said, no one makes a bigger mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do little.

Successful businesses have made CSR an integral part of their operations – paradoxically, trying to make savings in this area could be costly.

David Saul David Saul is Managing Director at Business Environment.