Is CSR still relevant to employees?

The pandemic had an uneven impact on people – is society still a key concern?

Is CSR still relevant to employees?

Does corporate social responsibility or corporate giving still matter to employees? How much more – or less – does it matter after we’ve all endured a “crisis of a generation”? Individually, many in Singapore found ways to help others through the pandemic, so will that translate into higher take up rate for a CSR program at work?

Last year donations made through Giving.sg alone hit a record high of $102 million at close of financial year on March 31, 2021. The amount received on the online donation portal is said to have exceeded figures from the year before.

There were also stories of Singaporeans giving the government payouts they received, a one-off token sum of about $600, to charities because they felt that someone else needed it more to survive the crisis. Others volunteered their time and effort to try and make a difference.

Read more: CSR shouldn’t be a gimmick, says HR head

Are Asian firms doing their part for society?

The figures show that on a personal level, individuals do care about their impact on society and will make the effort to give back if they could. And it does matter if a company shows they cared as well. A study by Deloitte in 2018 found that over 81% of employees in APAC said it’s ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for businesses to prioritise CSR. When broken down by age group, three-quarters of younger workers had especially high expectations for companies when it came to being socially responsible.

Unfortunately, the study found that only one in 10 companies considered CSR a top priority in their overall business strategies. For firms that did have initiatives in place, about a third had few or poorly-funded programs.

Another study by NVPC, or National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, in Singapore found that one in two businesses found ways to give back in 2018. Philanthropic initiatives like cash donations, fund raising efforts and employee payroll deductions were the preferred methods (89%). About two in five professionals tapped on policies that allowed them to volunteer on company time. A third of professionals poured their efforts into advocacy-related activities.

Plus, the study found that having CSR embedded into policies or practices at work encouraged employees to give back – 66% of staff engaged in volunteering and 42% donated through the company. NVPC also found ripple effects in the employee experience, in terms of team building, employee morale and loyalty, recruitment, as well as talent and skills development.

Read more: Asian employers not ethical enough for staff

How to cultivate a values-driven culture

What’s more, a recent World Economic Forum study done in collaboration with Accenture confirmed that CSR does still matter at work. Employees expected leadership to act responsibly and have goals and values that aligned with the idea of ‘sustainable prosperity’. This means that there is a growing demand for businesses to address environmental, social and economic issues in return for their ‘license to prosper’. Young and emerging leaders (61%) said that business models should be pursued only if they improve both societal outcomes and profitable growth.

Read more: How to help your team find purpose at work

This desire to ‘save the world’ or help others is even more apparent in difficult times like the ongoing COVID crisis, said Cecily Ng, Singapore vice president and general manager at Salesforce. “We are reminded to focus on values especially when faced with challenging times,” she told HRD. “We believe that as a company we need to be led with values.”

She shared that Salesforce has had a culture of giving back even before the pandemic, backed by benefits like volunteer time off and a donation-matching initiative, where the company would match employees’ charitable contributions up to $5,000. “We are proud to say that in 2020, even during the pandemic, our employees came together to offer hours of their time,” she said.

One example included an employee-led fundraising campaign for the migrant worker community, who had an especially tough time battling a rapidly spreading virus cluster and were forced into lockdown in their inconducive living quarters. Seeing the dire situation, employees worked hard to raise over $22,000.

Additionally, over 100 staffers decided to deliver thousands of meals to the various dormitories across Singapore. It suggested that the culture of giving back to society is truly lived across the organisation – a dream for any leader who’s worked hard to realise a values-driven company strategy.

“We incorporate it as part of the company values and it is not something that we talk about only at the beginning of the year,” she said. “We talk about it in every town hall. [We] celebrate people who are doing these great things so employees continue to do it – pre-COVID and during COVID, people do give back.”

Read more: How do the values of managers affect morale?

The company makes it a point to set a target to encourage a deliberate effort from everyone, be it employees or leaders. This target could mean hours spent volunteering, for example, and acts as a reminder for employees to include it in their workdays as well. Some leaders also set volunteering sessions as part of a team bonding exercise.

“We have a measure on it and all the leaders are accountable to maintain that culture,” she said. “[It applies] whether you’re a long-time employee or someone who has just joined.”

Ng believes in role-modelling behaviours and is herself committed to giving back in her own ways. She acts as an advocate and consistently supports mentorship programs organised by external entities. Having been with Salesforce for over a decade, she’s learned plenty from her experiences. A top learning involves how to personally sustain CSR activities when you’ve already got a tonne on your plate as a leader.

“First of all, what I learned is you need to prioritise it,” she said. “You need to book the time and be intentional about it, so I would block off time in my schedule to volunteer. And I will chip in and support something organised [by others].”

Just from her voluntary mentorship sessions, she’s received feedback about the impact she’s had on her mentees, even if the stint runs for a short period of time.

“What’s surprising is that even though you spend maybe only seven days or less, the impact and key takeaways can be tremendous,” she said. “So don’t underestimate the little things that you do because it could have a big impact on others.”

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