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When HR meets CSR, the Business Benefits...But Do HR Managers Believe That?

The Human Resources function has the potential to drive significant business benefit through adopting a CSR approach and embedding CSR practices in the business.

Submitted by: Elaine Cohen

Posted: Mar 08, 2013 – 08:56 AM EST

Tags: csr, hr, sustainability, cso, novus, usps, sustainability report, business, shrm, cipd, ellen weinreb, work culture, employee engagement, green teams


By Elaine Cohen

I have been very vocal with my mantra "It is time for HR to wake up to CSR" for quite some time now, as it has been apparent to me that the Human Resources function has been in danger, and still is, of letting the CSR movement and all its benefits, pass the function by.

Based on my conversations with many people in this field around the world, plus research published in 2011 by the U.S. Society for Human Resources Management showing that there is minimal HR involvement in CSR strategy development and implementation of CSR practices, the fact remains that very few Human Resources Managers are engaged with, or even aware of, the CSR movement and their responsibility to support the embedding of CSR into organizational culture and practices.

CSR for HR: The Blank Stare

Talk to an HR Manager about sustainability and you often get a blank stare in return. Mention Environmental Responsibility and you get a referral to the Operations Manager. Ask about diversity and inclusion practices, and you get told, "anyone is welcome to apply for a job here." 

Ask about the living wage and the response is "we pay competitively within our industry." Venture to inquire about how the company supports human rights, and you get a few heart-rending stories about CSR for HRhow the company has supported an employee whose home burned down or another whose husband died of cancer, leaving three children and a mass of unpaid medical bills.

Dare to raise the subject of CSR metrics, and the HR Manager has to go to another meeting about winning the war for talent.

Should Implementing CSR Be an HR Responsibility?

Interestingly, in research just published by the U.K.'s CIPD, a leading HR Management professional organization, results show:

Only 53 percent of HR Managers perceive themselves as having responsibility for implementing CSR strategy while only 13 percent of middle and senior managers in their organizations believe they are involved.

Not only is this a low level of involvement, there is also a great dissonance between what HR Managers, and what other managers, think they are contributing.  

The fact is, if we are to be honest, that while HR Managers are not at the CSR table, CSR Managers are doing very little to help them get there.

CSR Managers, or Chief Sustainability Officers [CSO], have a complex role to play in a professional arena, which is constantly evolving. Focused often on environmental sustainability, NGO partnerships and building the business case, CSOs have external affairs, environmental affairs or research backgrounds in the main (according to research by Ellen Weinreb, published in 2011), and appear to have little appreciation for the massive contribution to achieving shared goals that HR Managers can make.

Chief Sustainability Officers and HR: Talking the Same Language

The answer is partnership: CSR Managers must look to the HR function to be equal partners in the advancement of shared CSR strategy and goals, and must be proactive in inviting that partnership. sustainability professionalEqually, HR Managers must do the same. When both these functions learn to talk the same language, at least part of the time, the organization wins, and society benefits.

Most of the HRM contribution is quantifiable and can be articulated in business terms, including actual cost saving benefits, as well as other co-relatable outcomes of a CSR-HR "partnership in practice," such as improved customer service, innovation and better reputation, all of which so-called "non-tangibles" actually become the source of competitive advantage in the medium to long term.

The HR-CSR Scorecard

HR needs to get better at defining HR-CSR strategy with measurable and quantifiable outcomes for the business. The HR-CSR Scorecard is one of the tools, which can be used to support this approach. Those attending our educational CSR for HR webinar series, designed to provide tools and practical advice for CSR and HR Managers, may just emerge from the silo to create an integrative approach for sustainable business progress.

For example, Novus International, a global feed supplements manufacturer, has advanced employee wellness for over four years now, [disclosure: Novus is a client of the writer] a six percent decrease in employee healthcare insurance plan costs due to a consistent and wide ranging approach to employee health and wellness, according to its 2011 Sustainability Report.

Six percent is only the tip of the iceberg. Additional benefits in motivation, productivity and reduced scorecardbusiness risk are all outcomes of improving employee wellness. 

Another example relates to engaging employees in green activities. The low-carbon economy needs all hands on deck, and companies who believe they can achieve their carbon objective without the full involvement of all employees are going to underperform. The United States Postal Service's 2011 Sustainability Report reveals that the company saved $52 million in environmental practices in 2012, a large part of which was due to the efforts of the organization's 850 "leaner, greener, faster, smarter" Green Teams in reducing materials consumption and increasing recycling.

It is time for CSR and HR to partner in driving sustainable business practices. It's a shared responsibility… with shared benefits. And it starts by talking the same language.


Register now for our CSR-HR Training Series with Elaine Cohen, now certified by the HR Institute and featuring guest speakers from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Eileen Fisher!

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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