· Features

CSR has to be about people affecting other people if you want it to drive employee engagement

Even against the backdrop of digital tools, employee engagement is a commodity that is hard-won.

There are many reasons that organisations struggle with it. Economic pressures, strategic direction changes and leadership are often key.

But perhaps the most interesting reason is that society is changing. Employees are no longer looking for the biggest pay cheque or most convenient location. Many want to work in an organisation with a strong and proven record in people management and CSR.

A new younger generation of employees want to feel they are working for an organisation that is built on people, not just products, services or sales. They want one that gives back to the communities in which it exists. From my perspective, as the head of HR for a technology company where our products often touch end-users and communities, this is especially true.

This is one of the main reasons we engage with a local charity called the Walton Lea project, near our UK HQ in Warrington. This is a phenomenal charity that works with adults who have learning difficulties. It provides them with skills, work and therapy through horticultural rehabilitation. As a charity, Walton Lea is striving to become a self-sufficient business by reducing its dependability on grants and Government support. In theory this is an achievable goal, but a reduction of council backing and changes to benefit laws are threatening its survival. This is where companies can make a difference.

We encourage all staff to work with Walton Lea. So far this has paid off for both parties. Employees have given up their time to raise funds for the charity and have grafted 150 hours of manual labour maintaining the gardens, and we have committed to providing about 15 hours more a month on an ongoing basis.

From a business perspective, encouraging our staff to give back to the community has had an overwhelmingly positive effect. Individuals feel engaged not only with Walton Lea but with AppSense. They feel empowered and that they are doing good, while being supported in doing so. Employees have learned new skills and are fostering new relationships.

These, and other charity activities, such as working with CoderDojo - a project where under-18s can learn to code for free - enabled us to score 5.83 out of a possible seven on the Sunday Times top 100 companies to work for last October. This was a key measure of success for us. We have the added benefit of prospective talent looking upon us as a favourable employer.

Our CSR efforts signal what we care about our community and our staff. The talent we attract has values that resonate with our values. This is because they see what we are doing in the community, and trust there is a natural synergy between what they and the organisation care about.

The bottom line is that CSR has to be about people affecting people when you want your CSR activity to help drive employee engagement. Employees need to feel that they can freely engage with their community, with the backing of the business. Prospective talent needs to see that you are actively involved in your community and not just digging deep into corporate pockets to hand out money. This is the only way for CSR to become a valuable employee engagement tool.

Katy Clough (pictured) is VP HR EMEA at AppSense, a provider of virtualisation technology