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What is Corporate Social Responsibility and How Can You Communicate It to Your Employees?

Definition: Corporate Social Responsibility

Countless companies promise to make a positive impact, but what is corporate social responsibility? Otherwise known as CSR, corporate responsibility is an organization’s acknowledgment that the rest of the world matters. A company cannot pursue profit at any cost; it must respect people’s livelihoods, the environment, and social issues. 

As such, corporate social responsibility is a business’s way of holding itself accountable and self-regulating its operations. CSR is not a nice-to-have program — today, it’s an essential component of the way a company conducts itself. 

For this to be true at your company, your employees need to be on board with your CSR mission and initiatives. Communicating corporate social responsibility to your customers and stakeholders will only carry you so far. You must make your values clear to your workers if your CSR efforts are to make a tangible impact. 

Here are a few ways to communicate CSR to your employees: 

1. Involve Your Employees 

One of the most basic and essential things your company can do to make its corporate responsibility initiatives matter is to involve your employees. What issues are your employees passionate about? Do your initiatives align with the social topics your employees care about and how your business operates? For example, a fashion brand could use CSR to regulate the way it sources its materials to be conscious of fair labor, sustainability, and animal welfare. 

Ask your employees for feedback regularly to determine which areas your company is succeeding in and which could use more work. Examples of questions you can ask them include: 

  • Do you believe the company’s CSR initiatives are substantial enough? 
  • Do you think the company’s CSR goals are attainable? 
  • Do you feel actively involved in the company’s CSR efforts? 

Next, provide your employees with opportunities to volunteer. People want to make a positive impact. Giving your employees a chance to do so boosts their engagement and improves talent retention. Something you can do is host an adult “field trip” where everyone on your team travels to a nonprofit organization’s site and spends the day making a difference. It’s also practical to allow your employees paid time off to volunteer so they can get involved with other social issues they care about outside of work. 

You can talk-the-talk about corporate responsibility all you want, but employee participation is how you walk-the-walk. 

2. Make CSR a Constant at Work 

Corporate social responsibility is not something adjacent to your business. A fashion brand that volunteers to raise awareness of unfair labor practices is hypocritical if it sources materials from sweatshops. To ensure your employees live and breathe CSR when at work, it needs to be a constant presence. 

How do you make this happen? From a communication standpoint, make sure your employees know that CSR should drive their day-to-day activities. Create internal email campaigns that promote your initiatives and their impact. Have guest speakers come once in a while to talk about advances in sustainability technology and labor rights. Remind workers of your company’s corporate responsibility mission at meetings, so everyone leaves with it in mind. 

A significant step you can take to make CSR a constant presence is setting up digital signage around the office. When you have TV screens stationed in heavily trafficked areas, you can use visual and textual messages to motivate and inspire your employees. All they have to do is look up and be reminded about the difference they are making. Messages can include photos from past volunteer opportunities, data regarding how much waste or energy your company has saved, increases in sales amongst socially conscious consumers, and more. 

3. Create Concrete CSR Reports 

Your CSR efforts will appear vague to both your employees and the public if you don’t provide evidence of their effectiveness. Publish quarterly reports that detail everything there is to know about your company’s social responsibility. For instance, what were your goals, and what measures did you take to achieve them? Were you successful? If not, what will you do to succeed next time around? Collect factual data to measure your organization’s influence. 

While past successes are important to note, a CSR report is not the place to be self-congratulatory. Instead, focus on how what you’ve accomplished related to future goals and initiatives. By setting even more goals, your company will distinguish itself as one that pushes further instead of being content with doing the bare minimum. Potential goals include taking steps to reduce your organization’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years or ensuring everyone in your supply chain is paid not just a living wage but a thriving wage

4. Follow Through on Your Commitments

Consumers, the media, and especially your employees can tell when your corporate responsibility efforts are genuine or purely for PR. Employees want to work for a company that follows through on its promises. If you make a claim about your environmental or social impact, then you need to back it up.

Close any gaps between the way you portray your CSR and your actual commitment to it. For instance, if you promise to diversify your board of directors, you need to do so as soon as possible. Your employees are integral to bringing your corporate responsibility initiatives to fruition, so be honest with them in communications about where your company stands, your CSR shortcomings, and ask them for ideas for how to improve. 

Remember: corporate responsibility is not about charity and philanthropy nearly as much as it is the way you run your business itself. Because it is so close to your company’s operations, your employees need to be on the same page as you are, so use the above methods to communicate your organization’s dedication to responsibility accordingly.