Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now an essential part of any business. Once widely considered as little more than a 'nice-to-have', changing attitudes among customers, investors and employees alike means ensuring sustainability and paying close attention to how you give back to society is no longer optional.
But while CSR considerations need to play a part in every business decision, the HR department will have significant influence in this. They’re the department that’s in the best position to take the temperature of the company, find out what employees think and take steps to align these opinions with the actions of the business.
Unlike board members, who may impose company-wide ideas on the business from a distance, the HR team can ensure there’s a clear link between the issues employees care about and the steps the firm takes to address these, thereby creating a company culture employees are proud to be a part of and that leaves a positive impression on customers and shareholders.
So how can HR teams integrate CSR into everything they do? Here are five key things to bear in mind:
1. Make it part of your hiring process
Embracing CSR should be a priority right from the early stages of your relationship with employees, and it's certainly something prospective hires will expect from you - especially millennials, with some studies suggesting up to three-quarters of this group would accept a lower salary to work for a socially and environmentally responsible company.
Therefore, by being prepared to answer any interview questions they have about your practices, you can ensure you're attracting the best talent and hiring people who fit into your company culture.
2. Involve employees in decision-making
Ensure your employees have a say in how you enact CSR policies, and which areas to focus on. If people feel a personal connection to a cause, they'll be more enthusiastic about promoting it, and this will feed through to the rest of the business and to customers.
To achieve this, you could run surveys throughout the organization to identify key issues. Creating a working group with representatives from all levels of the company also ensures people's voices are being heard, while there should also be an easy way for employees to proactively submit their own ideas.
3. Integrate it into your training
Training sessions are the best way to ensure employees are aligned with the company's values and culture, as running specific sessions on the importance of CSR and explaining what steps the company is taking is an essential way of raising awareness and instilling it throughout your company culture.
This can be especially important when focusing on management training, as these personnel will set the tone for the rest of the company. Teaching these individuals how to find ways of aligning individual work-related activities with company-wide CSR projects and supporting employee activism ensures CSR remains at the front of managers' minds in everything they do.
4. Make it central to your brand
This in turn can help with wider goals of making your social responsibility a key part of your brand. It's important for businesses to demonstrate what they're doing to support their CSR initiatives, and this means much more than having an informative page on the website or a section in the firm's annual report.
One way HR can help with this is by offering employees time off to participate in volunteering programs. This shows employees that this is a priority for the business and, in turn, these personnel are more likely to recount their positive experiences online or to friends and family.
This is also a great opportunity to stand out as, even though these initiatives are growing in popularity, firms that offer this are still in the minority. In the UK, for example, 63% of employees reported they don’t receive any time off for volunteering.
5. Keep it authentic
No matter how you choose to meet your CSR requirements, it's important you're doing it in a way that shows it's something the business and its employees genuinely care about. Customers and investors will also be able to spot when a project isn't sincere and is just being done to tick a box.
This is where HR can be especially useful in leading the way. Taking the time to find an angle or cause that's relevant to the business and can be integrated into every aspect of your operations will reap huge benefits. To do this, ask what matters most to your employees - talented people are every business' greatest asset and if they believe in what their company is doing, others will too.