The organisation of the future will always regard the HR function as a business partner without underestimating its role in shaping the business. Today, HR is not just a gatekeeper of an organisation’s policies or a function responsible for acquiring and retaining talent. It is a function that drives initiatives that can transform an organisation’s perception in the minds of consumers, shareholders and other stakeholders. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one such area.
Why? Simply because organisations have understood that millennials want to attach themselves to a higher purpose. In this scenario, HR is well-equipped to encourage employee participation in CSR programmes, implement and monitor these initiatives effectively over a period and document their success. Another crucial reason contributing to HR’s involvement is CSR’s growing importance in employer branding. Run a quick search on Glassdoor and MouthShut, and you will observe that employees praise a company for consistency in its CSR work. This praise is not to be mistaken for a PR gimmick, but something that an organisation builds painstakingly over a period by engaging its employees.
In India, the Companies Bill 2013 stipulated that all companies with a net worth of more than Rupees 500 crores or revenue of more than Rupees 1,000 crores or net profit over Rupees 5 crores must spend at least 2 per cent of the average net profit of the last three years on CSR, with a further definition of the broad categories in which this expenditure must occur. This law was not passed to promote cheque-book charity, but to ensure that organisations come up with a well-defined strategy on spending their CSR budgets. Today, an organisation can do voluntary, pro bono, and low bono work in the chosen areas of its CSR operations. Data analysed by the ministry of corporate affairs for CSR expenditure of all Indian companies in 2014-15 showed that education (32 per cent) and health (26 per cent) were the top two areas followed by environment conservation (14 per cent).
Jonny Gifford argued that the HR profession has a three-fold role in CSR as many aspects related to HR management. “HR needs to make sure people management practices are ethical. To embed CSR, you need to give people the right support and training and HR has a role in learning and development. Embedding ethics into the organisational culture is about being able, at board level, to ask the challenging questions.”
Typically, the CSR wing of an organisation zeroes in on the focus areas of CSR. Here, HR can be the game changer by proactively reaching out to the employees to understand the kind of causes they would like to support. It is human nature to get attached to causes that touch one’s life or that of loved ones. Quarterly updates on the progress of such initiatives can be sent to the CSR departments that can further tweak its programmes to suit the interests of employees. In case these changes are too radical, the CSR department can start grants for causes beyond the organisation’s focus areas. In this way, organisational and individual CSR goals can be reconciled with HR’s intervention.
It is equally important to acknowledge that we are living in uncertain times with climate change looming large as the biggest threat to human survival. Sustainable CSR projects with a long-term impact on the environment are much needed. For example, HR can play a significant role in making small changes to the workplace to cut down the organisation’s carbon footprint by building long-term engagement.
Companies operating ethically and demonstrating a keen concern for the health, safety and quality of life of working people are aspirational enterprises. Sustainable programmes do motivate employees to perform to their highest potential. If the values of a company and its employees are aligned, then the morale and commitment of the employees increase. Employees, who participate in community development partnerships and programmes are highly energised by the experience and are more likely to recommend the company, stay with it, and be motivated in their jobs.
By Ajith K. N.
Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer