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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a measure of how businesses stay socially accountable. It is a cornerstone of the identity of many brands, helping shape a positive reputation.

It is also a key tool in the war for talent, with modern employees valuing companies that make a positive impact and give back to society.

So, as the current coronavirus pandemic continues to impact businesses, it is crucial CSR efforts aren’t put on the back burner. Instead, businesses should tailor their plans to meet the demands of the new normal.

The value of CSR

Modern consumers are more socially conscious than ever, with 70 percent claiming they want to know the brands they shop with are doing their bit to support social and environmental issues.

Businesses who neglect their responsibility – without a clear and actionable plan for giving back to the local and wider community – are at risk of being left behind and suffering a damaged reputation.

CSR isn’t just a box-ticking exercise but provides demonstrable value for people. And while it may not be measurable for businesses in revenue or ROI, without it, they will see consumers heading elsewhere.

Among the benefits of investing in a CSR strategy is creating an accessible ‘human’ identity, which offers valued personalization for consumers. Shoppers enjoy playing their part by supporting businesses that share their success with those who need it.

It also allows businesses to meet the needs of modern employees. These days, workers want to feel they are part of something bigger than just an office. CSR efforts allow employees to channel empathy, understanding, and support into their work.

Now more than ever, with so many impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important those with the resources to provide support to others, do so. While some businesses may not be able to maintain pre-pandemic efforts, they can adjust their CSR offering to provide support in different ways.

Addressing the challenges

For thriving businesses, CSR efforts become more viable – whether it’s contributing a more substantial charity pot, or employing a larger team, freeing up members to engage in community work.

However, when circumstances change, it’s often these non-core business activities that suffer. For example, firms actively cut down on CSR activities during the 2008 global recession.

As businesses look to cut costs and get back in the green, leaders are forced to justify every outgoing to stakeholders. For these investors – who are often further removed from the business and its local community – CSR efforts can appear a justifiable cutback.

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic delivered these harsh economic challenges but it also creates additional roadblocks in health and safety. For those which focus their efforts on in-kind giving – for example, volunteering in the community or hosting fundraising events – it’s not safe to continue these efforts in the short-term.

Shifting the CSR approach

In times like these, CSR is more important than ever. Businesses have a chance to give back to those who have supported their growth pre-pandemic. Leaders must simply realign their efforts to suit the current climate.

While some in-person initiatives may be ruled out, like local volunteering days or community clean-up schemes, businesses can still contribute to their communities.

For example, businesses could take advantage of the office being closed by donating their typical utility fees to local charities.

Some of our clients have even donated their Christmas party budgets this year – with traditional large office gatherings not possible – and have welcomed positive feedback from employees who are on-board with the gesture.

However, it doesn’t have to be financial support. The software company, R3, redirected their fortnightly kitchen delivery to three homeless shelters over the pandemic. This saw over £15,000 worth of cereals, fruits, drinks, and more donated to those in need. They also redirected fruit deliveries to local NHS services as a token of their appreciation.

Consider how your business can give back. Donating items or surplus stock to those hit by the pandemic or offering a discount to local customers or emergency services staff are examples of gestures available to those unable to make financial contributions.

It’s also important to understand the indirect impact of the business. For example, some of our clients have conducted audits of their partners and suppliers to make sure they’re working with like-minded firms that place similar emphasis on CSR.

The employee impact

Considering the importance of social responsibility to modern workers, it’s crucial businesses communicate ongoing CSR strategies and commitments, even as they change.

This may include inviting employees to participate in the strategy from the start. Consider sending an email to staff, discussing the company’s ongoing CSR policy. Welcome suggestions on new initiatives and local causes which the business can support.

While it may not be possible to act on every suggestion, businesses can still work with employees to find different ways to make a difference or plan for future efforts. It’s not about solving all the world’s problems but making a genuine difference to as many people as possible.

Publish a regular round-up of business CSR activities for interested employees. This could be via email and include case studies and images of activities undertaken by the business, as well as information on how individuals can get involved.

This should also include quotes and case studies from recipients or scheme partners, to help readers understand the scale, reach, and impact of the work.

It’s been a challenging year and one which has reminded us of the importance of social awareness and support. Businesses currently have a real opportunity to use their CSR efforts to unite the workforce.

Those able to effectively communicate an accessible and relevant CSR strategy will reap the rewards of an engaged and fulfilled workforce, in talent retention and productivity.

 By Andrew Jones, Head of Everyday Essentials, Express Vending.

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