Charity begins at home

So does corporate social responsibility. Values-based community engagement boosts employee retention by adding meaning.

The proverb “charity begins at home” tells us that in order to extend a helping hand, we need to make sure that our own house is in order first.  That inherent wisdom is valuable in the corporate world too.

 Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved from charitable contributions and philanthropy to the expectation that corporations are obligated to act responsibly in support of society’s well-being.  CSR reports offer the public some proof that corporations are acting responsibly and are continuing to earn the right to exist in the society that supports their business. 

A 2008 Imagine Canada report, Corporate Community Investment Practices, Motivations and Challenges: Findings from the Canada Survey of Business Contributions to Community, noted that 71% of business leaders surveyed agreed that charities and non-profit organizations generally improve the quality of life in Canada.  The same report stated that even more (79%) strongly agreed that businesses and non-profit organizations can mutually benefit from collaborative relationships. 

Many businesses report on their CSR programmes.  BMO Financial Group reports on its multi-level literacy programme as does Microsoft  on their youth and humanitarian response programs.  The reporting draws attention to efforts designed to improve the lives of citizens at home and abroad.  

Corporations need to ensure that their employees are treated with the same care and commitment that they extend to the community through CSR programs. Actions that enhance and preserve the quality of the social and economic well-being of employees can demonstrate corporate commitment to CSR. 

Québec’s Desjardins Group is a great example of this, topping the Corporate Knights list of the “Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada for 2012.”  Part of what makes Desjardins stand out is a dedication to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of its 42,500-person workforce.  The company offers shuttle buses between offices, discounts on a bike sharing programme, a company carpool program and incentives to use public transit.  As well, executive compensation is linked to the achievement of the company’s sustainability-related performance targets.

Values are vital

It is important for a company to establish a clear connection between its values and the aims and objectives of its CSR programs and policies.  Values inspire employee and community engagement with CSR programming.  The alignment of a CSR program with corporate values helps ensure that future decisions will be made in a consistent manner.  Employee training and support in a values-based CSR program is consistent and encourages active employee involvement.

Hitachi is a company with a Canadian division that falls in line with an eight-point global policy that all business units and employees are expected to adhere to, with the goal of promoting a sustainable society and future.  That includes open disclosure and transparency, doing business on the principles of fairness, sincerity and acting with the “utmost respect for human rights,” while pursuing a high sense of corporate ethics.

Integrating organizational development objectives with CSR activities benefits the corporation, its employees and the community.  Involvement of employees in CSR projects can support the strengthening of teams, cross-fertilization of talent and development of technical skills. 

Knightsbridge, a human capital management firm, had 300 of its employees assemble 60 bicycles to donate to the Salvation Army as a team building exercise.   Employees were not only enriched by the team-building experience, but also by having the opportunity to reach out to the children who actually came to the event in order to choose their bicycle.

Employees are an important part of the process when it comes to socially responsible business decisions.  The opportunity to apply decision-making skills in CSR projects is possibly the best way for companies to demonstrate a genuine commitment to their employees and communities.  Also, corporations should reward employees for recommending socially responsible improvements in product development, manufacturing, packaging and distribution. 

A global approach has been explored by some larger companies.  International Corporate Volunteer programmes provide opportunities for employees to work with small businesses, government agencies, non-profit and charity organizations, and associations in varied industries. These programmes are win-win, providing benefits for sponsoring companies, employees, and local clients in key emerging markets. IBM, Accenture, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Starbucks and Ernst and Young are a few companies whose employees have participated.

CSR boosts recruitment

A lot is being said about the role that CSR plays in recruitment and employee engagement, particularly among millennials who will make up 50% of the workforce in 2020Research conducted in The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study indicates that 79% of millennials want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts or contributes to society and 64% report that their company’s social and/or environmental activities make them feel loyal to their company.  

Are the publication of CSR reports and the active promotion of CSR initiatives in the recruitment process enough to induce employee loyalty and engagement?  In spite of the prevailing economic conditions, an on-line survey conducted by Right Management in 2010 revealed that 59% of HR professionals in North America believe turnover rates will increase in the next five years. 

Building a positive corporate image through the veneer of highly visible CSR programmes and reports doesn’t seem to be enough to sustain business success.  If corporations intend to attract, retain and engage their employees – particularly the socially minded millennials – more attention and action are required to ensure that the values they promote through CSR programmes are internalized and integrated in daily work.

This article was originally published in YourWorkplace magazine, Volume 15 Issue 1.

Published by Camille Isaacs-Morell

Enabling businesses and people to be successful. This is my mission, my life’s work. It’s always been what I have done wherever I’ve been employed, called to serve or to volunteer. An experienced business leader, my core values are truth, integrity, and respect. I believe that values-based leadership is critical for organizational success that is enabled by an engaged and empowered workforce. Working over the years in several senior marketing, communications, and executive leadership mandates for global, financial, healthcare, and non-profit organizations, it has been through times of transformation and difficult change that I have done my best work. In my blog posts, I share my perspectives on leadership, marketing and strategy that are based on my key learnings and observations over the years, all with the objective of helping others reach for success. In my spare time, I enjoy the beauty of nature which I reproduce in my pastel paintings.

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