How to engage employees with corporate social responsibility policies

CSR engagement and communication

Need to know:

  • Effective communication is needed to engage employees with corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies.
  • Employees involved in CSR initiatives are generally more engaged with an organisation’s culture and values.
  • Communication could take a range of forms, for example, highlighting CSR aims through a bikes-for-work scheme.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies can highlight what sets an employer apart from its peers, but for employees to understand what a policy is and what it means to their everyday working lives, clear communication is needed.

Employee involvement

Indicating how staff can get involved with a CSR policy, and how it impacts them is an effective way to gain their engagement. For instance, 80% of employee respondents who take part in workplace volunteering initiatives are fully aware of the community investment policies put in place by their employer, but this falls to 44% when employees do not volunteer, according to Business in the Community’s (BITC’s) Community Mark holders 2014-15 research, published in July 2015.

Actively involving staff in cementing CSR strategies into an employer’s brand and culture, from the formation of a policy to its implementation and development, can also help engage them with it. If an organisation does not already have a well-established culture, employers could ask staff what they would like to change about the organisation, or what action could be taken to ingrain CSR and business values in the workplace. Kiarna Tarr, senior communications consultant at communications agency Like Minds, says: “Having an engaged workforce means employers can enforce messages about their values and goals.”

For example, following feedback gathered through its employee engagement survey, employer Booking.com introduced its Booking Cares programme in 2014 to encourage staff to take part in social initiatives close to their hearts to make a positive social impact. Booking Cares began as a volunteering day for staff to join projects focused on improving the destinations they care about, but now the organisation also has an emergency response crowd-funding programme in place. Luke Sondelski, global manager compensation and benefits at Booking.com, says: “Our employees are driving the CSR policy with their participation and collaboration.”

Blended into the business

Employers can consistently communicate their CSR policy to their employees by incorporating it into the day-to-day running of the business. Elaine O’Keefe, principal at Mercer, says: “Employers need to keep CSR communication fresh and part of employees’ everyday working life rather than [something along the lines of] a message on the organisation’s website.”

This way, employers are not bombarding their employees with information about their CSR strategy, but are making it into a true set of lived values. Ethel Maldonado, community investment manager at Business in the Community, says: “CSR policies need to be embedded into the processes of the business.”

CSR policies should be focused on the long term rather than be something that employers focus on once in a while, or on an ad-hoc basis. A key way that employers can do this is to demonstrate the values that are important to the business: by talking about and encouraging staff to do the ‘right thing’, and actually doing the ‘right thing’ as a business.

By including CSR initiatives in the daily working lives of employees, they are more likely to understand why their employer is implementing initiatives and perceive it as both genuine and tangible. Steve Sykes, client director at communications provider Shilling, says: “CSR policies demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to sustainability, but you need examples of organisations practising what they are preaching.”

Communication that stands out

Effective communication strategies need to stand out from the volume of information staff receive on a daily basis. To achieve good engagement with CSR, employers need to think outside the box to captivate staff enough to understand and connect with the policy. Tarr says: “It’s important that employers tie in their CSR policy with interesting ways to communicate. For example, if an organisation is starting to offer a bikes-for-work scheme, it could host a charity bike ride.”

By utilising more unusual methods of communication, employers will create memorable engagement from staff, making them more likely to get involved with the policy. Employers should also make use of existing communication channels to showcase their CSR policy, says Maldonado.

CSR communication can be delivered through posters, social media and intranet sites, and should also draw on employee feedback and data. Employees sharing their experiences can prove to be a powerful form of engagement.

Engaging employees with CSR policies through effective communication can boost motivation and staff retention; and thereby save costs on recruitment fees. If CSR is not embedded in the heart of an organisation’s culture and communication, employees are far less likely to engage with it.

Kamel MellahiViewpoint: Involve employees in CSR communication

When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, employers should complement top-down communication with bottom-up communication.

The communication strategy should reflect employee engagement and participation in CSR initiatives. Employers should encourage their employees to contribute to the CSR strategy, as well as share experiences.

Employers must be very straightforward and honest about the motives behind, and outcomes of, their CSR initiatives. Whenever possible, employers should communicate tangible outcomes of their CSR initiatives.

Internal CSR communication is at the core of successful CSR strategies. There is strong research evidence that effective CSR communication has a positive impact on employee outcomes, from attracting and retaining talent, to employee motivation and commitment and high job satisfaction.

The alignment between CSR communication internally and employee benefits is likely to amplify the positive outcomes. Alignment between the organisation’s CSR strategy and employee benefits may encourage employees to become active in CSR implementation, become CSR champions and subsequently increase their loyalty and commitment to the organisation.

This said, excessive CSR communication is counterproductive and may do more harm than good. Also, employees may view CSR initiatives negatively if they see their benefits packages deteriorating. CSR should complement rather compromise employee benefit packages.

Kamel Mellahi is professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School

WithersWithers lives CSR values through benefits portal and staff volunteering

When Withers enhanced its benefits portal, provided by Staffcare, in December 2015, it made its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme a prominent part of the carousel on the flexible benefits page.

The international law firm communicated annual salary increases and bonus payment updates to its UK employees by moving away from paper communications in line with its commitment to conducting business in a sustainable manner.

Withers uses various communication techniques to ensure that employees understand and engage with the benefits programme and portal. This includes benefit roadshows, presentations, benefit brochures, internal TV screens, emails, ‘benefit of the month’ promotions in its on-site café and refreshment areas, and holding one-to-one discussions when requested.

Alongside its eco-friendly initiatives, Withers also hosts a Charity of the Year (COTY) fundraising programme, where employees are encouraged to nominate and vote for a charity. The aim is to make staff feel part of the programme and to increase engagement, which, in turn, enables Withers to achieve maximum impact and make a real difference to the charity.

The law firm also runs an employee volunteering programme, With…Opportunity, designed to help members of the local community that are looking for work to enhance their skills and confidence. During the two-week programme, employees share their business knowledge and experiences with scheme participants.

Sharon Tebb, compensation and benefits manager at Withers, says: “The intensive programme aims to gradually build participants’ confidence at work, with week one focusing primarily on training, development and confidence building and week two on work experience. Each participant leaves the programme with a supportive mentor, a number of new skills and, most importantly, the confidence and belief that they have something to offer.”

Employees can also support the local community by offering their services on a pro-bono basis.

Tebb adds: “We believe that the strength of our business is aligned to our social values. CSR for us is important and all about understanding and managing the relationships between our business and the community, the environment and the economy, as well as identifying and supporting the talents and enthusiasm of our staff.”

AstellasAstellas cascades CSR communications through its workforce

Pharmaceutical firm Astellas communicates its corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy through presentations to its people managers, who can then cascade updates and information to their colleagues as they see fit. It utilises posters, banners and messages on plasma screens throughout its offices to make sure it is highlighted to its 400 UK employees during their day-to-day working life.

Robert Wigmore, senior manager, reward and human resources at Astellas Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), says: “It’s this kind of face-to-face communication that really stands out in people’s minds compared to just another email.”

Astellas offers its 400 staff the opportunity to donate money to any registered charity, or the organisation’s own foundation, the Astellas European Foundation. Its employees can also volunteer for community projects.

Wigmore says: “We had a lot of feedback from employees who wanted to run their own fundraising activities, which is a great sign that they want to get involved [with the volunteering scheme].”

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The organisation also hosts quarterly Town Hall meetings led by its representative director, president and chief executive officer Yoshihiko Hatanaka, alongside other directors. During the final meeting of 2015, Hatanaka personally thanked all the 100 staff who took part in the volunteering scheme by name.

Astellas also runs annual peer-to-peer awards, known as the Changing Tomorrow awards, a name that represents the type of organisation it strives to be. The awards highlight employees’ commitment to Astellas, its CSR policy and innovative efforts.