HR Roundtable: How Will a Social Responsibility Focus Change the Workplace?

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Jan 6, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Before 2015 closed out, the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati gathered to discuss the topic of Social Responsibility by organizations.

It seems to be a hot topic, but it really isn’t clearly defined so it was worth tackling.

Here’s what the small groups started with:

  1. How is social responsibility different than philanthropy?
  2. Why is this such a “thing” now?
  3. How will social responsibility change organizations as we know them?

The groups jumped on these tickler questions, and the discussion was thoughtful and measured. It was a bit calmer than most Roundtables. However, they came back with some phenomenal answers !!

1. How is social responsibility different than philanthropy?

  • It’s part of the business model — When a company is practicing social responsibility, it is built into their fabric. This is much more than charitable giving. It can be as small as a conscious strategy or as large as a foundation block of a company’s culture.
  • Practice fosters engagement and ownership — Being socially responsible involves action and activity. It can be one method to engage employees based on the efforts taken. It can also create an emotional tie for employees to an organization where they can see themselves as “owning” what is practiced.
  • It’s more holistic — Philanthropy is always welcomed and needed. There will never be a shortage of causes that need additional monies. Social responsibility may also involve money and an investment, but the intent is for the company to be respondent to its environment as a whole.
  • It has a broader reach — Philanthropy can be narrowly focused and only involve a few employees from a company. Social responsibility can potentially involve every employee as well as customers that the company serves.

2. Why is this such a “thing” now?

  • More awareness — Employees are more socially aware than they have been in the past. People used to just “go to work” and were thankful for jobs. There is a growing movement that employees want the company they work for to be a good social citizen locally and globally. It is becoming much more of a cultural expectation than it had been in the past.
  • Transparency and accountability — Just like awareness, companies are not called upon to be more and more transparent and accountable for what they represent. This is more than a “feel good” posturing where companies do work that may get them visibility. There is an on-going monitoring of companies because of technology and social media. This is the new norm facing all companies.
  • It fosters a “give back” mentality — This is a solid positive aspect of social responsibility. There have been decades where companies only acted if it benefited them. With social efforts, the company can become less self-serving and more focused on others. It’s an attractive attribute to have and practice.
  • It’s now a factor in being competitive — The newest generation joining the workforce is more socially conscious than the generations that preceded it. There is an added benefit for recruiting and retaining employees when they know they are working for a company who is socially responsible. It ties into the need for collaboration and it can be a differentiating facet versus other companies in industries who decide to not be as responsible as others.

3. How will this change organizations as we know them?

  • Relevance and sustainability — Social responsibility is similar to when companies faced globalization. There were companies who fought globalization and refused to acknowledge that it was happening. They have disappeared. This is not some trendy fad that will disappear. It will be around in some fashion and will surely evolve. It will, however, keep companies who embrace it relevant and positioned to be successful in the future.
  • It will be a retention factor — What employees look for from their employer is constantly changing. Employees are much more willing to change jobs “just because.” Companies need to have factors such as social responsibility in order to attract and retain great people. They are looking at what companies are/aren’t doing in this regards even before they interview for openings. It’s a huge reality and an opportunity to truly connect with great talent!
  • Establishes new boundaries — Social efforts and activities stretch a company from its norms and allows them to grow and establish new “boundaries” that define who they are. This is exciting because HR can help build these programs and activities to do things that will matter socially both in the short-term and over time.
  • It changes the conversation — What do people say about your company? How do employees describe you? – These are more than employee engagement survey questions. They are important to see what is being said. If your organization is socially responsible, the conversation that describes who you are changes. That is a great thing that can shift perceptions and give you a new platform to build from.
  • It may improve business performance — The only reason we say “may” in this response is that social responsibility will look different in each organization and industry. It should be something that shows employees and customers that you are different, but it needs to be developed, implemented and practiced over time to see how it improves business results.

This is an intriguing new wrinkle in the corporate landscape! It will be interesting to see how it evolves and becomes much more of a reality.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.