Employee Participation in Embedding CSR: The role of Corporate Identity and Ethics

“The social context in which business operates at the beginning of the 21st century is uncertain, complex and dynamic.” (Fitzgerald 2003)

“An integrated CSR culture (is where) external-led policies and actions used to support reputation and stakeholder engagement are matched by internal business strategies and decisions driven by social and environmental principles.” (Hancock 2005)

In the age of rising recognition and need for increasing employee engagement, CSR initiatives are not an exception. The company may chart out a policy, draw up a plan, and invest funds, but it needs complete endorsement and active participation by employees to carry it forward and implement it as perceived. Employees’ deep identification with an organization’s identity has been shown to enhance commitment to the organization, job-related motivation and satisfaction, and organization-relevant citizenship behavior. Recent studies have also shown that employee’s participation in CSR programmes reinforces their experience of corporate identity.

When it comes to engaging employees successfully in the company’s ethical programmes, close alignment between CSR strategy, corporate identity and internal communication is critical. When we look at employees identifying with the company, we mean the extent to which they derive elements of their own identity from being a “member” of the company or organization. In the CSR context, it denotes the degree to which they can commit to the organization’s goals and values. If employees identify with the ethical goals of a company and its programmes, they are more willing to collaborate with CSR programmes.

Different, but not mutually exclusive approaches to employee engagement are identified. The first of these is using codes and regulations (that include contracts that employees may sign each year as members of the company or on behalf of the company). These may be specialized compliance programmes in ethical production in industry or transparency in finance or alternatively, third-party codes such as ISO 26000 and the Global Compact.

These codes are useful because they can be used to control standards in outsourced production locations in such order that monitoring and verification can be carried out ‘on-site’ by external bodies.

The second approach may be values programmes. The purpose of these programmes is to communicate the values that formulate the company’s operations. Whereas codes tend to imply negative impressions in that they define behaviour likely to incur sanctions, values programmes highlight the positive elements of workplace responsibility. These values programmes are not alternatives to the codes or compliance programmes, they exist side by side with codes and compliance programmes in many companies.

A third approach is corporate initiatives that use core competencies of the company for better social welfare (instead of outsourcing the CSR programme to development programmes, trusts and foundations, etc).

An example to quote here is that of the Institute for One World Health (OWH). The Institute develops safe and affordable medicines for people with diseases in the developing world by approaching companies for permission to share their intellectual property, engaging scientists for development work and persuading donors to fund clinical trials and to support the distribution of drugs in developing countries. Through this approach, everyone benefits: research scientists have the chance to develop new ways of curing disease; pharmaceutical companies get some return on their intellectual capital and lastly, poor countries get inexpensive or free drugs that help solve their health problems.

Most importantly, donors can participate in meaningful programmes that address global health issues with the urgency that is required.

In the context of “corporate citizenship” and internalizing CSR, it is essential that the management puts into place effective reporting instruments and systems that are easy for employees to use.
Companies can do this by setting up anonymous surveys, reporting lines, focus groups so that employee perceptions can be known. This creates “social capital”. Taking this to another level, employees suggesting and formulating CSR policy, i.e., making it a participative process has also been shown to enhance positive identification with the company and better work attitudes.

Ethical leadership also uses the reward system to encourage and celebrate ethics and hence send the right messages; it builds ethical achievement into performance evaluation and uses compensation and promotion structures to highlight success. Apart from this, good CSR leadership makes sure that the reward system does not send the message that unethical conduct is not dealt with. Violations must be addressed appropriately.

This “charity begins at home” does not end with internalizing CSR by encouraging and enabling employee-based reporting. The company should also consider employees as stakeholders: a large part of this is focusing on employee welfare programmes. These include day-care facilities for employees with young children, college funds and healthcare programmes, insurance and so on.

Employee volunteer programmes are probably the most effective and meaningful ways to involve employees in CSR. Employees may volunteer their time to the company’s own CSR programme or to an external (or partner’s) programme. This kind of engagement helps break the monotony of an employee’s routine and gives them an outlet to showcase their spirit and talent to a different set of people altogether.

?Allowing employees to run a CSR programme by forming a programme committee or a CSR committee empowers them to take ownership of the company’s policy making and goals. For example, AppLabs has an ACT chapter in each country, and the ACT team plans and manages volunteers, develops relationships with partners like local NGOs as well as implements the programme and services. The objectives are defined quarterly by an employee team who are part of the decision-making committee.

It also rotates quarterly so that different employees get an opportunity to lead the initiative.

In the organizational context, one may contrast two commitment “styles” – affective commitment (driven by attachment to or identification with the organization) and normative commitment, which is based on the belief that there is an obligation as an employee to abide by the CSR programme or compliance and codes.

Compliance programmes are often adopted to help regulate, but they are also used to discipline and control employee behaviour. Values programmes, on the other hand, are adopted by managements that care about ethics and look to respond to the concerns of stakeholders. These programmes are also the core ideals that employees can identify because they reflect their needs and goals.

Employees respond to compliance programmes through conformity whereas values programmes are likely to result in commitment.

Employee commitment can only be nurtured, not enforced. To reinforce positive corporate identity, the company should be able to build ethics and values into ‘hearts and minds’ by means of these ethics training programmes, introduce it into discussions of business decision-making. Giving examples of corporate decisions where bottom-line considerations were set aside in the cause of ‘the right thing to do’ helps instill a sense of “good” and “bad” company behavior.

If top management is genuinely committed to ethics, they will seek to carry employees with them and to embed ethics policy in processes, practices and performance appraisal. If employees see that the organization is living up to the standards expected of it, they are likely to want to engage in supportive behaviour. These can mean ethical behaviour on their behalf or willingness to report ethical problems to management.

Successful CSR programmes depend on informed people management practices as well. The HR department is responsible for many of the key processes like recruitment, training and communication.

Employees must see selection systems and pro-cedures as free from bias, or compensation systems must be considered fair across the board, not just at the executive level (for example).

Research about employee commitment has concluded that employees are more likely to identify themselves with the company and its objectives if the company is seen as “good” with other studies linking it to increased job satisfaction.

Strategy, direction and operations should all rise to the challenge of nurturing employee commitment to CSR.? Various studies have shown that a company that is perceived as a good corporate citizen has more committed and motivated employees. Also, employee participation can form a self-reinforcing loop that strengthens the employee’s identification with the company’s values (and over time, with the company and its goals) resulting in better compliance, performance and commitment.

    Author Information

    Nimra Amjad is an Environmental Science student at Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore and a founding member of Pakistan Sustainability Network. She has worked for World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan, Responsible Business Initiative (Pakistan), Roshni Association and Caduceus Magazine in UK.

    One Response to “Employee Participation in Embedding CSR: The role of Corporate Identity and Ethics”

    1. Asmat #

      Hello! Its good to see information on website but please enable users to search information on website.
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      August 5, 2012 at 1:16 am Reply

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