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Getting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Right

Oncle Hans Oktoberfest

Here in Canada, we’ve just experienced that overindulgence known as Thanksgiving Weekend. In Kitchener, where NetSuite Waterloo and TribeHR live, Oktoberfest is now in full swing. This is the time of plenty, the time of harvest, and we are all enjoying the bounty. In a few short weeks, our friends, family and colleagues south of the border will share in the abundance of their own Thanksgiving. Sadly, most will not experience Oktoberfest.

As we gather around a loaded table with family or knock back a stein of beer with friends, it’s easy to forget that the day is called Thanksgiving Day for a reason. We, in Canada and the U.S.A, are privileged to live in countries that strive to uphold civil liberties and to protect the most vulnerable. We are not perfect, and we could do much better. Still, we have so much more than so many others.

Thanksgiving is about being thankful for our abundance, grateful for our advantages and generous with what we have. Sharing is also a fundamental part of the celebration. When settlers first came to North America, they would have perished without the generosity of both the native people and their fellow pioneers.

Last week, TribeHR staff participated in NetSuite’s Global Impact Week: a week-long celebration of NetSuite employees giving back in local communities around the world. It was a great reminder of the power of gratitude and generosity. Each office spent the week helping, giving and sharing with those in need. More importantly, we spent a week steeped in gratitude and the knowledge of how fortunate we are. Here in Waterloo Region, our activities ranged from making blankets for critically-ill children to teaching local kids how to code.

Making blankets for Project Linus

For the entire week, we felt we were making a difference in a world that is not always kind or fair.

Of course, being thankful for what we have shouldn’t be limited to Thanksgiving Day; just as giving back to the communities we live and work in is not a once-a-year thing. As an organization, NetSuite supports a variety of causes year-round through its corporate citizenship arm, In our local office, we support many community organizations and initiatives. We encourage each employee to actively volunteer and we reinforce it by offering two days per month paid volunteer leave.

It’s all about Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is defined as the voluntary activities undertaken by a company to operate in an economic, social and environmentally sustainable manner.[1] Some companies have always embraced CSR, while others are only getting on board due to changing consumer, employee and investor expectations. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), these changing expectations mean:

“…corporations can no longer act as isolated economic entities operating in detachment from broader society. Traditional views about competitiveness, survival and profitability are being swept away.”

When determining how best to demonstrate their commitment to CSR, companies may take one of the following approaches (or, ideally, combine them).

Brand Alignment

One of the most common approaches to CSR is to align voluntary actions with the desired company branding, values and expertise. For example, Pfizer “capitalizes on its expertise in the pharmaceutical manufacturing business by donating medicine to a wide range of health initiatives in developing countries”. Pfizer also holds access to medicines as a key corporate value, so the company also donates money to support patient assistance programs that subsidize the cost of medication for people who can’t afford it.

Another example of brand alignment in CSR activities would be the Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty, which has evolved into The Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, focused on “creating self-esteem-building, educational programs and activities that encourage, inspire and motivate girls around the world.” The program aims to reach 15 million girls by the end of this year.[2]

children learning how to code

Employee Preference

Some companies encourage employees to get involved in CSR initiatives. They may even allow employees to choose what gets supported and how funds will be allocated. The biggest advantage to this approach is the impact it can have on employee engagement. A recent study by Net Impact found that American employees overwhelmingly want their jobs to make a difference—to the company and to the broader community. Survey results showed:

  • 35% of respondents said they’d take a 15% pay cut to work for a company committed to CSR.
  • 45% of respondents would take the same pay cut to take a job with environmental or social impact.

Involving employees in both CSR decision making and CSR implementation has the added benefit of making sure they know about it. When CSR activities focus solely on brand alignment, it’s not uncommon for employees to be largely unaware of those activities!

Impact Mitigation

A third approach to CSR is to carefully consider the direct and indirect ways in which a company negatively affects the surrounding community and seek to offset those effects with pro-active CSR commitments. One example of this approach would be a logging company that commits to sustainable harvesting practices, exceeds the legislated reforestation requirements, and then supports broader forest conservation and restoration efforts.

Another company might realize that their move to a larger building (on the outskirts of a community), will cause a significant increase in single occupant automobile traffic in the area, resulting in increased CO2 emissions. To offset this, management could implement an employee shuttle bus or ensure that the new building is built to the highest possible LEED[3] standard to minimize its carbon footprint.

Whichever approach you decide to take to CSR, I’ll leave you with one final thought: even if your company is being pushed into CSR by market forces and the growing evidence that doing CSR right is good for business; keep your mind and heart open for some unexpected benefits.

Research shows that gratitude, sharing and helping others all improve mental and physical health and build confidence. A company’s genuine commitment to CSR attracts top talent and increases employee engagement. And finally, thoughtful CSR can reduce the kind of ethical conflict that often leads to stress and burnout[4]. Clearly, getting CSR right is worth the effort.

NetSuite TribeHR, the social HRMS that’s fostering a more engaged workforce. Try it free today!

[1] Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada: Corporate Social Responsibility.

[3] Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

[4] Dr. Morley D. Glicken. Ethical Conflicts Increase Work Stress and Burnout

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