CSR a victim of the GFC?

by HCA17 Sep 2009

Australian companies are struggling to keep corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the business agenda during the downturn, with fewer than half of employers reporting that they have CSR practices in place, a new white paper reveals.

The Manpower survey of 2,804 HR professionals in Australia revealed that just 26% of Australia's employers have a formal CSR policy, while 21% have an informal one; 53% have no policy at all. For companies with no policies in place, the vast majority of respondents (71%) indicated that they had no plans to develop one.
 
Moreover, the survey found that measuring the success of current programs was difficult, with 76% of respondents saying they do not calculate CSR's return on investment.

According to Chris Riley, general manager, sales and marketing, Manpower Australia & New Zealand, organisations should view CSR programs as a business investment, and allocate the same level of scrutiny and resources.

"Introducing or formalising CSR policies demonstrates that the organisation is serious about making a difference," said Riley. "While many companies go in to 'protecting profit' mode during a downturn, this shouldn't mean cutting CSR programs. Instead, it's an opportunity to re-evaluate, streamline and focus the program with clearer goals and more effective evaluation tools."

The survey revealed that many organisations underestimate the impact of CSR on employee engagement, citing 'contribution to society' (70%), 'public relations strategy' (53%) and 'environmental concerns' (40%) as the top three drivers behind CSR.

Yet 'improved employee morale' was the most consistently reported benefit (33%) for those companies with programs in place, followed by 'a stronger public image' (29%).

Employee engagement and retention, Riley said, should not be ignored just because of the downturn. In fact, CSR can be a powerful incentive for organisations unable to offer financial benefits to retain top talent.

"Smart companies will counter wage freezes and cut backs by offering non-financial benefits, to ensure it remains an attractive place of work. For example, community service leave, for employees to volunteer to work with community and charity groups, has been a popular but low-cost benefit in our own organisation," he said.

Riley added that as the economy recovers and the war for talent resumes, candidates will look for more than just salary or stability.

"We are getting more and more questions at interviews about an employer's approach to CSR, indicating that job seekers are increasingly ranking CSR high on their employment criteria. With our survey revealing that less than half of organisations participate in such programs, CSR could provide an important point of difference to attract higher quality candidates," he said.

This competitive advantage is even more relevant for small to medium companies, with the survey showing a direct correlation between company size and adoption of CSR: 75% of companies with 1000+ employees had CSR practices in place, compared to around half of smaller ones.

"Smaller employers have an opportunity to take a leading role and differentiate their organisation from competitors," Riley said.

The message coming from the paper is that CSR makes good business sense.

"Even though an initial investment may be required, companies can reap long-term benefits including improved staff engagement, lower overheads from energy-saving initiatives and improved relationships with customers," Riley added.

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