Blog Post: How CSR can be put into practice by HR

How CSR can be put into practice by HR

Employee: I would prefer a higher income that allows me to contribute to solving social and environmental issues within my community, rather than having my employer making those kinds of decisions for me.

If you're in HR, you may at some time in the near future be tasked with integrating corporate social responsibility ("CSR") initiatives. How would you respond to the employee in the statement above? Will you try to convince him or her of the benefits of CSR? or would you prefer to skip the subject altogether?

If we accept that CSR survives only through enhancing the social education of employees, then the HR department has a crucial role in the development of CSR. HR can change the system. HR can influence the top-level management of the company to support CSR initiatives, help enhance employee buy-in, and affect the overall performance and effectiveness of the programs themselves.

In many organizations CSR is integrated in Communications or Public Affairs. Historically, it has been rare to find CSR imbedded in HR functions, but the trend is shifting. The reason is largely driven by the responsiveness of many leading companies. We live in an era in which talented Millennials, Gen Y's, and Gen X'ers want to create a positive social impact in the world around them. They search for companies that offer them a purpose in life. In fact, we are witnessing a change of mindset at every level. A job is not just a job anymore. Most of the employees want to contribute and make things better. We all want to work for organizations which stand out in CSR and go beyond those related to the environment and social causes. These companies take very good care of their people, and the communities within which they operate.

Let’s think forward. There are several initiatives that the HR department in any company can take to embrace the needs of our times. And HR can adapt the existing strategy for creating a sustainable environment for the employees.

HR needs to get CSR Training
HR should be prepared for what CSR really means and for the related practices. If the company already has a CSR manager, this is already a step forward. HR and CSR can work together and develop the sustainability concepts related to employees.

Speaking with some of my friends working in multinational companies in Europe, they knew very little about the CSR actions of their organization. These usually take place outside of company and have low involvement of the employees. The general approach to CSR is mostly related to compliance with ethical standards and with the law, protection of the environment, philanthropy and the support of social causes.

HR can change the mindset of leaders, can educate employees, and can create a culture of social responsibility. This requires knowledge of the team responsible for CSR, leadership from the C-suite, and the support and buy-in from virtually all levels within the organization.

Everything begins with people. In the long-term, the investment in people’s education has immense benefits for a company conducting business in an international environment. The employees could have a certain vision on what sustainability means, according to their own culture. HR can shape that vision through the company’s CSR oriented culture.

Set achievable Goals
People have to believe in doing right. HR can create short and long-term goals which are achievable and can be easily followed up. Involving employees in planning will be a great idea. This way they can feel part of the team and most likely they will want to contribute as much as possible.

Some examples include:

  • Less waste: first, getting the employees’ opinion about waste and what are they thoughts on recycling and reusing and second, creating together a plan and establishing the goals
  • Improving the skills required at workplace through voluntary actions organized by HR
  • Adding innovation & efficiency targets at all employees’ levels

“Transparent” should be the word standing next to communication. Employees should be in the loop all the time. It helps engaging them in the workplace and it creates trust in the company.

A starting point could be the redesign of the internal brand campaign to include also CSR. HR should work with the Communication & Public Relations department on this. Using social media and internal tools is great, but HR should not limit itself to virtual communication only. Face to face formal and informal meetings between HR, Leaders and employees are a good opportunity to promote sustainability at the workplace and beyond.

The most efficient communication is through action, though. Good reputation is based on what the company does and which efforts were made. The perception of the employees about CSR practices can be modeled through real facts and examples and not just words.

Inspire and engage Employees
There are many ways of engaging employees.  These can shape people’s behavior and motivate them to embrace CSR and consider it part of their life, not only of their workplace.

HR can help employees to better understand what CSR is, how to be responsible on day-to-day basis and how to support their colleagues and the company. On the other hand, HR should be transparent about its own actions and about the efforts done for supporting the employees.

There are five approaches that can be taken towards engaging employees:

  • Creating or facilitating access to leadership development programs designed to build CSR knowledge.
  • Introducing mentoring programs between senior and junior employees focused on sustainability practices.
  • Officially dedicating several hours to voluntary work or workshops. The special allocated time doesn’t necessary have to be spent outside of company. HR can arrange places within the organization where employees can meet and hold brainstorming workshops oriented towards finding new and better ways of sustainable management.
  • Engaging people through incentive: can be decided to give one or few cents/pennies to each employee who recycles bottles, plastics, batteries, and other wastes. The amounts collected can be donated to a charity or NGO chosen by the employees.
  • Organizing fun hands-on activities for all the employees.

For example, at LinkedIn, the employees have one Friday each month (InDay) where they are free from the daily responsibilities and they are encouraged to do something different together: explore a new idea or interest, learn new skills, volunteer in local community, do something fun with the colleagues.
Cisco’s employees have more than 160000 volunteer hours around the world in a year.
The team of employees called Civic Councils get involved in their local communities by organizing events and donation projects. Cisco would like that the employees to “be a part of the equation. You + Networks = Impact Multiplied.
If employees understand that participation to different CSR initiatives can improve their skills and can get them closer to their dream job, they will voluntarily take part in no time. HR can help them see the benefits, such as expanding their network, building relationships, breaking the daily routine and stimulating creativity.

Celebrate Success

Celebrations are always welcome. Recognizing the efforts of employees is a ‘must’ for any organization. Employees want to feel appreciated. Companies have many ways of doing this.

Successful CSR actions have to be officially reported at least on annual basis. Companies have to be consistent and transparent when reporting their achievements.
Internally, a good information system should be put in place. Employees will need to know first and in real time about successful activities. This is a great motivation technique.

Some examples include:

  • Recognizing the achievements of the employees in greening their job or greening their personal lives by organizing special CSR celebration events and giving awards to all the contributors
  • Celebrating Earth Day (22nd April) by engaging all employees into competitions with different sustainable goals
  • Annual official reporting of all achievements. As an illustration, see the People & Planet report of Nokia.

Since 2006, Toshiba Corporation is celebrating December as the CSR month, with a series of events that highlight the company’s global commitment to CSR, recognize the achievements of past year and encourage participation in voluntary activities.

Follow-up and improve

Online tools and internal newsletters can be used to track CSR actions. HR can invite employees to join dialogues on sustainable practices. HR can follow-up together with them and identify the weak and the strong points.
HR should use valuable information coming from the results of internal surveys and employees’ feedback when designing the next programs. Everything should be transparent and communicated in real-time.
Employees will definitely appreciate the company’s efforts to improve working practices and trying to create a better place to work.
Coming back to the first question it’s clear that skipping social responsibility is not an option for HR. Employees of a company with strong CSR practices related to human resources will not make such statements like the ones at the top of this blog. Engaged employees feel appreciated by the organization, contribute to different CSR actions initiated by the company, and are likely to develop their own passion for doing good.

One good resource to support the idea of CSR integration in HR is the book CSR for HR written by Elaine Cohen. Here is a summary presentation of the book.