The Evolving Role of HR in Corporate Responsibility

Today, Gallup reports that more than half of employees in the U.S. (51 percent) are not engaged with their jobs; while 16 percent are actively disengaged. If we use Gallup’s definition of an engaged employee, that means more than half of the workforce is not involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. This should scare employers. But it’s not all bad news—over the past few years we’ve seen one trend emerge that can play a role in mitigating this employee indifference and to an extent, has the potential to recapture some of employees’ interest in the work they do and the companies they work for: the opportunity to do social good.

Not Your Father’s Corporate Responsibility 

 The notion of corporate responsibility and what it means to be a socially responsible organization is changing. We are shifting away from companies doing some fundraising, writing a check to a foundation or non-profit, marking “do good” off their corporate checklist, and moving on to the next thing with no further thought to where the money was going or whom or what it was impacting.

This change in what it means to give back has been impacted in part from within by employees themselves. According to the 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study, 74 percent of employees said their jobs are more fulfilling when they are provided with opportunities to make a positive impact on societal and environmental issues. Not to mention the impact of corporate social responsibility on recruitment and loyalty; 51 percent of people won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social and environmental commitments and 70 percent of employees say they would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to important issues.

Employee expectations on corporate responsibility factor into a larger trend around changing societal and cultural norms. Today, people are looking for companies to step up, to help, and to make a stand more so than ever before. The pressure for companies to give back is not only internal, but also coming from their customers and communities.

Looking back on our definition of an engaged employee—involved, enthusiastic, and committed—it seems like investing in a solid corporate responsibility program can help fulfill these criteria for employees.

Enter HR 

Historically, human resource (HR) involvement in corporate responsibility initiatives has not been a given. Some HR departments own corporate responsibility initiatives, some work in tandem with the corporate responsibility departments within their organizations, while many remain entirely disconnected from corporate responsibility efforts. But thanks to the growing link between employee recruitment, engagement and retention efforts and an organization’s commitment to social good, times are changing.

Many organizations may feel the pressure to create, ramp up, or expand their existing corporate responsibility programs, and HR can play a critical role in accomplishing these goals by clearly communicating and presenting defined social programs and employee volunteer campaigns that both current and prospective employees can feel good about.

HR professionals should view corporate responsibility as an integral facet of employee engagement and professional development. Volunteer programs can be used as a recruitment tool, and skills-based volunteer programs can be leveraged to develop talent internally. HR should be involved as a key stakeholder in scoping and administering employee volunteer programs.

When employees can participate in skills-based volunteering, they’re not only contributing to others, but also their own professional growth. Deloitte’s 2016 Impact Survey found that volunteering can play a significant role in building key leadership skills. As HR professionals are tasked with developing high-impact training and development programs with limited resources, corporate responsibility initiatives involving skills-based volunteerism may serve as an effective means of professional development and management training. For example, a marketing associate who helps a nonprofit organization design a fundraising campaign might have the opportunity to further develop skills for project management, lead generation, and strategic communications. For large enterprises with multiple locations, consider selecting people in each office to head up local volunteer efforts. This is a great way to organize at a local level while developing leaders throughout your organization.

The role that corporate responsibility initiatives and employee volunteer programs play in employee engagement, retention, recruitment, and development goals will only continue to expand. We’re in the midst of a sea change as CR and HR professionals feel both pressure and inspiration from all angles—employees, senior management, the community, and customers—to uplevel social good programs. As these voices become louder and the expectations placed on corporations continue to grow, it presents an opportunity for HR professionals to broaden their work within corporate responsibility, launch a new program, or become better connected to an existing program within their organization—and all while doing some good at the same time.

—Jamie Serino, director of marketing for Blackbaud, Corporations & Foundations Division

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