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The business benefit of corporate social responsibility
While the memories of the global financial crisis (GFC) are fading, the questions surrounding corporate morality still loom large for many people. Companies are now more accountable for their actions and decisions than perhaps at any other time in history. The emergence of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as an increasingly central element of corporate strategy goes some way to restoring lost faith amongst consumers. The realisation of the positive impact it has on business if executed thoughtfully, as well as the uplift in employee loyalty and engagement, make it more compelling than ever. It is the new norm and was highlighted as part of our Seven Executive Trends for 2016.
Our history of ‘Giving Back’ (as we call it), dates back well before the GFC. Our first steps into CSR were initiated by Anthony Thompson, Regional Managing Director for PageGroup in China and South East Asia who got his team involved in volunteering and fundraising for St Baldrick's Children's Cancer Foundation in Hong Kong. Seeing the positive impact these activities had not only on our community, but on our employees, we wanted to put more structure around the program and open it up to the rest of our organisation region wide. In 2015, we made a move to provide all our employees with the opportunity to take a day off to dedicate to volunteer work or other CSR-type activities. Our progress since then has been nothing short of remarkable: we support over 30 charities and organisation and are involved in a range of activities and initiatives, from fund raising, to investing our time in helping job seekers, refuges, children in poverty and those affected by terminal illness. The list of causes is long and deeply humbling.
The number of causes and initiatives our teams are involved in now reflects the diversity of our organisation and the communities we operate in. In Delhi, our teams have raised funds to put 19 children through school, while in China there has been a lot of work done with Operation Smile, which assists children born with cleft palates. In Singapore, our teams have raised funds for Habitat for Humanity and undertaken volunteer building trips in Batam, Indonesia.
Measuring the value of CSR
Many organisations are eager to see the 'real value' of their CSR programmes — like a lot of businesses they want demonstrable ROI that adds value to their bottom line. It's understandable — particularly if your organisation is providing people with structured time off to pursue CSR. But I would be hesitant to think about CSR in pure monetary terms.
Corporate sustainability programmes work to give employees a sense that they are working towards a greater goal, this can lead to increased their sense of commitment. Committed employees are more engaged, more productive and less likely to resign. This will hit your bottom line in a positive way.
This desire to have a sense of purpose is becoming even more pronounced among the younger generations who are entering the workforce and want to work for companies who appear thoughtful, considerate and committed to using their resources and influence to effect positive change. Do this well and you will improve your external value proposition to potential recruits.
With the focus on CSR continuing to grow, I don't think any MNC operating can afford to not be delivering on a CSR program. There is a growing demand among job seekers and the community at large for corporate accountability. Companies that act thoughtlessly or without regard for their local communities or the environment are likely to face a maelstrom of criticism and reputational damage. Those that invest time and show consistency will reap rewards from positive headlines.
Implementing successful CSR programs
When looking to implement a CSR program, it's important to have an authentic and genuine desire to effect positive change. Here are some of the other things to consider when implementing a CSR program:
- Will you have one big effort, or lots of little ones: If you're a large organisation with many offices in different communities, you may find success localising your efforts to help engage workers, or you might prefer to pool your efforts towards one central cause.
- Decide how, or if, you will measure your efforts: This will depend on the kind of CSR you engage in. Companies like Nutiva, a whole foods company, who give a certain percentage of their profits to charity, will measure the impact and efficacy of their efforts differently than an organisation like ours who gives employees a day off to engage in volunteer work.
- Nominate a CSR champion in your office: These people are passionate about your chosen cause and can drive activity in the office, as well as having responsibility for planning and co-ordinating activity. This ensures you maintain momentum with your program.
- Seek regular feedback: Include questions about your CSR efforts in any of your regular employee engagement surveys, or request specific feedback on how employees are responding to your program, any suggestions they may have for causes to support or initiatives to implement, and track this alongside other metrics like overall engagement, attrition and brand sentiment.