The Government has been busy lending its support to initiatives aimed at improving the engagement of businesses with wider society.
The Big Society project has now been re-launched with £40 million of funding, to encourage greater voluntary work participation. In addition, the Employee Engagement Task Force (EETF) has been set up to boost prosperity by offering businesses practical ways of motivating staff.
HR professionals should be asking what this means for them and what the tangible business benefits are that they can 'sell' to stakeholders within their organisation to encourage take-up.
An important point to make is that independent research has shown that employees want to take part in charitable initiatives during work time and believe that their relationship with their employer is strengthened as a result.
In a survey carried out in April this year of 1,000 UK employees, 63% said that they would feel significantly more 'engaged' with their employer if it allowed charitable working. The benefits of this improved engagement for the employer include increased productivity, less staff turnover, fewer sick days and a generally happier workplace. This trend was even more marked among the 20-30-year-old bracket, the so-called 'generation Y'. Nearly 70% of this group said that they would feel more engaged by taking part in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and criticised senior management, with over half saying it was 'out of touch' with the wants and values of generation Y.
What is clear from the research is that there is pent-up demand from employees for their employers to allow paid them time off for charitable activities. To attract, retain and motivate employees it is vital that organisations look for more inventive ways of engagement and offer them more than just numbers and pay grades.
Employee engagement and corporate integrity also play a vital role in brand reputation. A recent joint report from the United Nations and Accenture surveying CEOs from 750 of the world's largest companies revealed that the majority of CEOs see employee engagement and business sustainability as a top driver for customer and employee loyalty.
Indeed, 81% stated that CSR issues are now fully embedded into the strategy and operations of their company.
Yet, it's not just enough to have CSR and employee engagement on the corporate radar. Implementing strategies that are consistent and coherent is the key to unlocking its value for the business, and often this company-wide implementation can fall under the HR department's remit. A few high-profile cases aside, most corporate CSR 'policies' consist of donating money to charity on an annual or ad hoc basis. This isn't a coherent strategy that actively engages staff.
What is needed is for employee engagement through CSR to be made easier and more exciting for all businesses. Schemes that allow employees to donate their skills and time to charitable causes support team bonding while fulfilling CSR commitments and fit the brief for flexible and accessible employee engagement. This approach also has resonance with the next generation of socially responsible generation Y employees and enables companies to recruit the brightest talent.
If there is something that Government initiatives such as the EETF and Big Society can achieve, it is awareness. Now it is up to organisations themselves to grasp the nettle and wake up to the fact that an engaged workforce is a productive workforce. More CSR policies are being rolled out than ever before and companies are increasingly recognising that better employee engagement is vital to economic success.
HR professionals have a vital role to play in communicating this message internally and driving engagement initiatives to bring long-term benefit to colleagues, the companies they work for and society as a whole.
Malcolm Scovil (pictured) is CEO at CSR software company LeapCR
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