Make The Most Of Corporate Social Responsibility

Social responsibility policies can enhance a company’s brand perception, but do they attract better, hard-working employees too? Tiisetso Tlelima finds out.

Social change is no longer just the job of government. In recent years, big business also has a role to play in making a fairer society. Companies realise that they have a bigger responsibility to society and have been engaged in various social projects in the areas of health, housing, education and the environment.

However, businesses do not only get involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives for altruistic or compliance reasons; it’s also good for business. Besides the obvious improvement in customer perceptions, researchers such as Vanessa C Burbano at University College Los Angeles and John List of the University of Chicago have shown through field experiments that not only does a strong CSR policy attract better qualified applicants, but they are also prepared to accept lower pay than in similar jobs not associated with doing good.

“Candidates research companies before they apply for jobs, and just as much as the company wants the right culture fit, the candidate wants the right company,” explains Elzette Fourie, a human resources and recruitment consultant. “Corporate social responsibility plays a big part in the decision-making of company fit.”

Bronwyn Williams, Trend Translator of Flux Trends, concurs: “A good thought-out CSR programme can help a business to attract employees,” she says, “Especially younger millennial and Generation Z employees who place a high value on active citizenry and want the companies they work for to reflect their personal brands and ideals. Young employees want to feel that the work they do and the companies they work for have a purpose, a meaning and a value beyond shareholder profits and pay cheques,” explains Williams.

Mmabatho Nkambule, founder of Tshukudu Consulting, is sceptical that research conducted overseas translates fully to South Africa. Millennials do want to work for organisations that are socially conscious and responsible corporate citizens, but with the high unemployment rate in SA, the top agenda for jobseekers is to secure stable work.

“While employees may be keen to engage in philanthropic work through their organisations, this is not the primary reason they are attracted to an employer, job security is still their main concern,” says Nkambule.

When asked whether South African recruiters emphasise a company’s CSR activities in their messaging to new hires, Nkambule says the most important consideration for human resources specialists is to determine whether an employee will fit into the organisational culture of the potential employer. So, if CSR is a significant part of an organisation’s culture, it should be highlighted as a selling point of that company too.

Better at work

But do companies with good CSR policies motivate employees to work harder for less pay? Fourie believes that when the company and the employees are a natural fit, employees will naturally work hard because they are happier in their jobs.

“In my opinion, mental health far exceeds the want for money, but companies must be careful not to take advantage.”

Williams reckons if employees share the same values and mission of the business they work for, they will be more engaged in their work and more likely to remain loyal to the company they work for. However, she believes that while in other countries CSR initiatives may attract better employees for less money, the same can’t be said for South Africa.

“Employees want to be paid fairly and to work for a fair employer who respects and adds value to society at large, so I don’t believe employees will accept lower pay from an otherwise socially responsible employer,” says Williams. “As they say, charity begins at home and one of the biggest social responsibilities companies have is to look after their employees.”

Consider this

Corporate social responsibility may have a downside: John List and Fatemeh Momeni published a paper late last year showing that employees who believe they are doing good are more likely to indulge in misbehaviour such as shirking. The suggestion is that the positive work gives licence to negative behaviour: “Doing good… induces workers to misbehave on another dimension that hurts the company”

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