Need to know:
- Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and volunteering can be highly valued by employees and used as an engagement and retention tool.
- Employers should consult staff to understand what causes matter most to them.
- Start with low-level commitments before extending these, and seek employee feedback on schemes.
In recent years, organisations have become more aware of the role they can play in helping to contribute to wider causes. Often, this has involved engaging employees in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, which, in turn, has helped to differentiate businesses as they seek to engage, retain and recruit staff.
Brendan Wincott, managing director at HR consultancy Guardian Support, says: “Now, more than ever, employees expect to see the [organisations] that they work for engaging in the community and also offering employees opportunities to do that. Employees want to contribute to their passions so, if they are provided with opportunities, the net effect is likely to be an increase in motivation.”
This kind of initiative can appeal to employees of all ages but is particularly attractive to younger staff such as Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010, which now represents a sizable proportion of the workforce. Michael Doolin, group managing director at Clover HR, says: “The world’s biggest brands are investing millions into CSR initiatives because they’ve done their research and understand the benefits. Take them away and [we] won’t have to wait long before [we] see the clamour and outrage on Glassdoor.”
Such initiatives can also help strengthen an employer’s attractiveness to potential new recruits, says Dr Shaun Wehle, principal consultant at talent assessment firm Talogy. “CSR initiatives position the employer as a socially responsible and compassionate entity, attracting top talent that shares similar values,” he says. “By nurturing a culture that supports employees’ personal growth and allowing them to contribute to meaningful causes, employers strengthen their brand reputation.”
One organisation that has seen this is nursery provider Bright Horizons, which encourages staff to take part in volunteering at a local level and wider fundraising initiatives through its own foundation. Denise Priest, trustee and director of The Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, says: “Recently, 75 colleagues joined in a sponsored walk for a domestic abuse shelter and one of our nursery managers is about to embark on an eight-day trek to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
“It won’t be the only reason employees choose an employer but the foundation does tend to stand out and appeal to those looking for an [organisation] that really cares.”
A recent survey backs this up; 84% of staff say being involved in such work makes them feel proud to work for the firm.
Organisations need to think about which causes they want to support, and the type of activities that will appeal most to staff, if they are to get the most out of any scheme. “The first step is to engage with staff,” says Doolin. “Talk to them and set up focus groups or even a WhatsApp group to test the water. If a company is hesitant about building a scheme, it might consider bringing in outside expertise to show them the ropes.”
Employers should start with relatively easy options, says Aimee Treasure, marketing and diversity and inclusion director at recruitment firm Templeton and Partners. “Realistically, most staff members will be more likely to sign up to something that requires little personal initial commitment and presents the most reward at first,” she says. “Fun starter activities include bake-offs and fundraising competitions, and single-day volunteering with maximum interaction, such as walking dogs at animal shelters.”
Digital transformation agency Embridge Consulting has gone a stage further, offering staff two paid days off a year for volunteering and community outreach activities, in addition to their normal leave allowance. Emma O’Brien, company founder, says: “We use our volunteer days not only as a way to make a real impact on our community, but also to embody our company values around work-life balance, empowerment and the ability for our employees to express their creativity.”
But it is also important that employers keep any projects under review, says Sarah Frost, head of people operations at consultancy Entec Si. “The degree of value employees place on CSR and volunteering activities can be highly subjective,” she says. “Businesses must actively seek feedback to ensure that their CSR initiatives are tailored to meet the preferences and values of the workforce.”