How to incorporate corporate social responsibility into a motivation strategy

Need to know:

  • Corporate and social responsibility (CSR) activities can include a range of initiatives such as payroll giving, charitable fundraising, volunteering, and environmentally-friendly schemes.
  • While large employers have a duty to report their corporate sustainability actions, employers can benefit from promoting CSR through the attraction and retention of key talent.
  • Engaging employees in developing and leading CSR activities will boost both the success of the scheme and staff motivation.

Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others; it is through no great leap that Plato’s words could be applied to engaging an organisation’s workforce in its corporate and social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. And through these actions, the organisation will, in turn, reap the benefits through the attraction and retention of talented employees. Deloitte’s global Millennial survey, published in January 2017, found that 35% of millennials, those born after 1982, that are offered the chance to support or contribute to charities or good causes while at work are likely to stay with their employer for more than five years, compared to 24% of those that are not offered such opportunities.

Employers’ responsibilities

UK-listed organisations have a requirement to produce a strategic sustainability report, which can be an opportunity for an employer to demonstrate the impact its actions have on society, the environment and sustainability. Kiarna Tarr, senior communications consultant at Like Minds, says: “[Employers] want to focus on doing the right thing, it’s something that needs to be in the business strategy, and if it’s not, investors would ask questions about it too. [They] see it as a really creative opportunity to strengthen their business, while contributing to society as well.”

CSR should not be an item on an employer’s agenda, it should be the agenda, says Karen Sutton, founder and chief executive officer of the National CSR Awards. “[Employers] and organisations that have CSR at their core ensure the sustainability of their business. True CSR is not just a programme a business runs either, these are not simply add-on activities to make a business look good,” she says.

Types of CSR initiatives

CSR initiatives take many different forms but each can play a key role in boosting employee motivation. Activities can range from schemes such as payroll giving, which require little involvement from the employer to volunteering projects that see employees build schools in a remote parts of the world, with the employer giving individuals paid time off to participate.

According to Sutton, there has also been a growth in corporate community partnerships where employers give employees time off to volunteer for projects in their communities.

2017 sees the 30th anniversary of payroll giving, whereby employees can donate to any charity of their choice tax free from their salary, and the scheme grows in popularity each year. More than one million employees gave to charity directly through their employer’s payroll-giving scheme in 2016, and the amount donated to charity via the schemes increased by £3.5 million in the 2015/16 financial year, according to figures from the Association of Payroll Giving Organisations (APGO).

Mervi Slade, senior consultant and chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s payroll giving special interest group, says: “[Payroll giving] can be a nice addition to CSR programmes; it’s easy to set up, it doesn’t cost anything for the employer to have in place, [and] it shows the employer has commitment to giving back. In any workplace, [there will be] individuals who are happy to give money but not necessarily give time.”

Employee motivation and CSR

Employers can use their CSR approach to improve motivation levels in the workplace; employees are more likely to identify with an organisation that believes in values that match their own. If employers involve employees in creating and running CSR initiatives, staff will feel more engaged with the strategy and motivated to contribute to its success.

Tarr says: “It does need to be something that has that shared value across everybody, whether that comes from giving employees the option to choose what they want to do, whether it’s money given to them, or a list of different initiatives, rather than it being top-down.”

Employee CSR motivation strategies also include those that aim to protect the environment, for example, by encouraging employees to save water and energy. Involving employees in activities such as volunteering, as well as demonstrating a commitment to employee wellbeing and the environment, is a significant benefit for businesses, says Robin Farwell, business development manager at Green Rewards. “The obvious benefits are the costs savings, reducing [the] environmental impact, saving energy and reducing the amount of water [they’re] using,” he says. “But also, a lot of our [employer] clients encourage volunteering: it’s good to be out in the community [and] to be seen as ambassadors of the business, it’s good for [an employer’s] reputation as well.”

Ultimately, employees will feel proud to work for an organisation that is known for positively contributing to society. Sutton says: “Putting CSR initiatives in place helps to create this culture of shared values that encourages engagement and a highly motivated workforce. Such an environment boosts staff retention and acts as a catalyst to attract talent too.”

RBS boosts employee motivation and engagement through its CSR approach

As part of its aim to become more efficient and environmentally responsible, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) launched a reward scheme that engages employees with its corporate and social responsibility (CSR) goals.

Mike Lynch, sustainable workplace culture manager in the workplace specialist services team at RBS, says: “The bank is aiming to become number one for trust and advocacy, and we believe that if we are a responsible business taking care of the environment then that’s going to help get us towards that goal.

“The other thing is that we want to become more efficient. As a business, we have over 2,000 buildings and the energy bills are significant, so there’s a cost element in efficiency there.

“Then there’s employee engagement: getting people interested, engaged and rewarded for taking part in something that makes people feel good.”

In 2016, RBS ran a pilot of the Jump programme, provided by Green Rewards, with 1,200 employees. As part of the pilot, employees participated in challenges to see how they could save things like energy, water, and waste paper, and were rewarded for their sustainability efforts.

Teams were responsible for a ‘last person out’ checklist to take responsibility for ensuring everything was switched off and no taps were left on at the end of the day to save water and energy.

The rewards included wall socket timers so that employees could install them on electrical appliances that are usually left on standby in their own homes in order to save money on their own bills.

As an incentive to join the scheme, employees had the option of claiming a KeepCup reusable coffee cup or water bottle. Over 1,000 KeepCups were distributed, which led to the bank removing disposable cups from one of its sites.

Among employees that took part in the pilot, 95% said that the scheme contributed towards employee engagement, team building and environmental sustainability.

In March 2017, the scheme was extended to all RBS employees in the UK and Ireland, comprising more than 60,000 individuals, through a smartphone app whereby they can take part in the sustainability challenges to earn points. Employees that earn the most points will be awarded gift vouchers.

Viewpoint: Employee volunteering has benefits beyond corporate social responsibility

Employee volunteering gives staff the opportunity to connect with a community, build their knowledge of the needs and challenges in society and deliver value through sharing skills and expertise. This can help to generate trust in the business and help staff to feel more involved in the towns, cities or countries that the business operates in. It is an important tool for making staff feel good about where they work, whether they are befriending isolated older people or sitting on a board of trustees.

But it is more than charity or corporate social responsibility, it is also an opportunity for employees to gain valuable skills and knowledge that improves their productivity. It can help employees to create products and services that are more relevant to the customer base within a community.

Brigade is a social enterprise restaurant and bar that offers homeless people or those at risk of homelessness training in hospitality and catering, and is a partnership between several charities and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). The accounting firm provided marketing and legal support to help support the restaurant and more than 100 employees have volunteered and mentored apprentices. As well as generating high levels of social value and return on investment, PWC reported that its staff improved their own skills, developed networks and social awareness, and reported feeling more engaged with their employer.

Examples like this are backed up by research. A May 2015 study by Circle Research, People or profits: why not both? found that the business benefits of employee volunteering included employee engagement (40%), team building (21%), and even a positive impact on PR and reputation (38%). And in an era where attracting and retaining millennials is a hot topic for HR teams, employee volunteering has also been shown to be an important pull factor. Research by Business in the Community in May 2016 showed that young people aged 18 to 24 are using volunteering to further their career aims (38%) and gain new skills (48%) to a greater degree than any other age group. 

As businesses increasingly fight to retain and recruit talented staff, employee volunteering is a way for employers to offer employees an exciting mix of skills development, demonstrate their corporate responsibility and offer social value to the community.

Andy Melia is head of community investment at Business in the Community (BITC)

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Statistics: 

  • 26% of respondents agree that when applying for a new job they would be more inclined to work for an employer with a good track record of supporting charities and good causes.
  • 39% agree that businesses and organisations that support good causes make better employers.
  • 45% believe that supporting charities and good causes helps to improve morale in the workplace.
  • 45% of respondents say that, as a way for organisations to support good causes, they should offer staff time off to volunteer.

(Source: Charities Aid Foundation, December 2016)