Friday, May 17, 2013

CSR for HR: coincidence or strategy?

The first international co-conference on CSR entitled "CSR- from coincidence to strategy", held in Bled, Slovenia earlier this week,  was a resounding success, drawing over 120 conference participants from Slovenia and CEE region. I was invited (and honored) to speak at the conference by one of the co-hosts, the Ekvilib Institute, whose leaders are driving CSR with a passion in this interesting and beautiful country.

Slovenia is a small country with around 2 million inhabitants, and a land area of only 20,000 square kilometers, but it hosts a world-class management school, the IEDC, which provided the conference venue and more than just a little inspiration. IEDC has a strong emphasis on sustainability, which is not surprising when you meet the power-dean, Prof. Danica Purg, whose commitment to driving home the message of responsible business is evidenced by the leadership shown by the IEDC in many areas.

A delight to open up the conference content was the incredibly talented and dynamic Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva, Ph.D., Coca-Cola Chair of Sustainable Development at IEDC. Nadya is the co author of Embedded Sustainability, one of the best sustainability books  I have read in the past few years. Nadya took us through a whirlwind tour of sustainability trends, in a presentation that was engaging and entertaining. From moral choice to inevitable reality, from greener to smarter, from optional niche to core strategy, from a department to a mindset and from a company to system are the headlines that tell our sustainability story going forward. Radical transparency and innovation are keywords that are leading the sustainability (r)evolution, and this was an illuminating backdrop to the day.

My keynote covered CSR for HR. Interestingly, my hosts gave me a title for the keynote. "When CSR meets HR". Of course, I had to disappoint everyone in my opening remarks, as, in today's reality, as you probably realize, CSR does not meet HR, at least intentionally, with very few exceptions. I was then able to give a justification for why CSR and HR should meet, and should continue to meet. This was followed by a panel discussion with some interesting insights from CSR/HR leaders in both small and large companies: Matjaž Čadež, founder and owner, Halcom d.d., Slovenia; Malgorzata Szlendak, Head of CSR and Corporate Communcations, Nestle Poland; Živa Vadnov, Head of Corporate Communications and CSR, Studio Moderna, Slovenia; and Nathalie Lerotic Pavlik, Head of HR Croatia and Slovenia, Microsoft, Croatia.

Later in the day, there was a breakout session in which we discussed the challenges and practicalities of embedding CSR for HR within organizations. A couple of key insights we drew from this discussion were:

Communications: It is so important to ensure a strong communications platform to ensure awareness of CSR and HR themes and expectations of employees in the business. Awareness is the precursor for action and communications can help build a familiarity and understanding that help all employees get more engaged.

Middle Management: This is the layer in any company which tends to be in the CSR for HR squeeze. Top leadership may understand and set strategy. The general body of non-management employees will do what makes sense to them and follow the leadership if the message is clear. It's the middle management in any organization which has the responsibility to translate the leadership message into actionable plans, implement programs and embed practices, while often dealing with multiple other tasks and responsibilities. Often, investment in middle management training and preparation to lead and embed CSR-HR practices is not sufficient, if it exists at all. If CSR for HR is to become truly core and integral in the way any company does business, more investment in middle management capabilities, resources and incentives needs to be developed.

The conference was a great start to what I hope will be a long tradition of CSR debate and development in Slovenia and the region. And, of course, an increasing acceptance that "It is time for CSR and HR to meet!"     

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Employee Engagement is not Enough

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference in Milan, Italy, organized by Lundquist, a  strategic communications consultancy, specializing in online corporate communications and the interface with CSR.  The conference was themed "New Frontiers of online corporate communications" with a focus on social media and employer branding. The conference was well attended by CSR and communications professionals, the creme de la creme of the communications world in Italy. The event was a stimulating gathering and many perspectives were shared and discussed. Othjer speakers included Andrew Thomas, publisher of Communicate Magazine, Caterina Rucci, Head of Employment at Bird And Bird Law Firm, Eric Sundstrom, editor in chief of Dagens Arena, a Swedish daily news service, as well as Joakim Lundquist, the mastermind behind the event, and James Osborne, Sara Rusconi and Cristiano Poian of the Lundquist team.
My piece was about, yes, you guessed it, CSR for HR, and I introduced the thought that, when it comes to CSR,
Employee Engagement is Not Enough! 
I thing we are in danger of diluting the "employee engagement" concept to one which is more passive than active. I am not sure who holds the definitive definition of employee engagement these days but generally it tends to refer to "a measurable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job" on the assumption that emotional attachment will create the desired behaviors.

Kevin Kruse, who wrote a book on the subject offers his definition in a Forbes article:
"Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.
This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn’t watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it’s the last bag on their shift."
This is good because, in Kevin's definition, engagement leads to action.This is right. Employee engagement in CSR should be more than an emotional commitment, it needs to be proactive action. But I think that the more we talk about engagement, the more we may be focusing on emotional onboarding and less on practical action. We should stop measuring "engagement" and start measuring behaviours. If engagement is the driver, action is the output, and business improvement, employee empowerment and social and environmental benefits are the outcomes. More than understanding that employees are engaged, I would like to know how they act, and how they turn their engagement into real deliverables. Therefore, at the Lundquist conference in Milan, I talked about:
Employee Activation

Does the CSR-HR Partnership drive employees to action in support of a CSR-oriented business program? Are CSR and HR Managers putting in place the tools that invite, encourage and compel employees to ACT, rather than be emotionally engaged at some sort of philosophical level? Are measures in the business the responses to a survey where we ask employees about their views, or do we ask them about what they actually did to advance CSR? Are rewards processes in place to recognize action rather than engagement?  
I think its time for HR to wake up to CSR and for the CSR-HR partnership to work together to drive Employee Activation, and not just employee engagement. Semantics? Maybe. But our choice of words may just influence the way we behave.
And while we are on the subject, you may be interested in two upcoming events on CSR for HR:
A new webinar training series for CSR and HR Managers about "Making the CSR-HR Partnership work." In this initial 2-session series on March 13 and March 20, we will cover:
  • The business case for advancing Sustainable Human Resources Management in your business, large or small.
  • The key issues that form the CSR/HR agenda and ways of addressing these in different organizations.
  • The employee engagement (activation!) aspects of CSR – what works, what doesn’t work and how to leverage engagement through CSR.
  • The measurable business benefits of a CSR-HR approach –quantifying the financial benefit to the organization through implementing CSR-HR tools.
  • The CSR for HR Roadmap and Scorecard - what you can (and should) do next, and in what order.
Check this link if you are interested in participating.

And if you are planning to be in the Barcelona area in June, you might want to register for this event on 11th June in Barcelona themed: "Boosting Employee Engagement in the Digital Era". I will be chairing this conference which will also include a case study from a great former colleague, Geoff McDonald, Global VP HR Marketing, Communications & Sustainability, Water at Unilever, on the role of HR in embedding sustainability in organizations.


Check this link if you would like to see the full programme

As you can see, my mission is about Activating the CSR-HR Partnership. Hopefully, more CSR and HR Managers will engage in activation too!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.    Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website  Check out my new book! Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage through Transparency

Sunday, January 27, 2013

HR Managers - just making excuses

HR Magazine UK published an interesting article recently about how HR Managers are not seeing benefit to the bottom line from CSR initiatives. The article refers to recently published research conducted by Cornell University. 143 senior U.S.-based HR people responded to the survey. This is a fascinating report which covers, among other things, the way HR Managers see CSR. Unfortunately, it tends to reinforce a lot of what we already suspected / knew. Here are some of the highlights:

On Page 3, the Executive Summary states: "Results regarding CSR indicate that CHROs see limited impact for CSR programs on the bottom line, and that this tends to be an obstacle to broadening CSR efforts. CSR efforts that are strategically built around the firm’s business seem to be more effective than those that appear without any alignment to the business’s capabilities or strategic objectives. In addition, because CSR has the greatest impact on the firm’s reputation, these efforts tend to be championed by the CEO more so than by those lower in the organization."
The research starts with an overview of what CSR programs HR Managers identify as being advanced by their companies from a list of 28 different pre-selected CSR-type activities. HR Managers confirmed that the most prevalent CSR programs relate to philanthropy and disaster relief, but high on the list are also providing employees with health risk-assessments, advancing employee volunteering and reducing energy consumption. The HR Managers feel that the health-risk assessments and volunteering programs have greater impact on the business than philanthropy. Of course they do. It just makes you wonder why most companies appear to be putting their efforts into donating money rather than driving activities which have a social benefit AND a positive impact on the business.
When asked about what they consider to be CSR best practices, HR Managers indicated things such as:
  • partnering with customers on employee volunteering programs
  • integrating the CSR agenda into the business planning process
  • community engagement, responsible citizens
  • creating a purpose-driven organization
  • developing strategic partnerships with NGO's
Interestingly, these examples do not include "doing HR differently" and integrating CSR deeply into core Human Resources Management processes. This, I believe, is one of the key ways in which HR Managers can/should make a big difference. Regrettably, they don't seem to see this.
Probably the most interesting part of this research is why HR Managers don't move forward with CSR. The report says:

"Finally, we asked CHROs to identify the biggest obstacles to the success of their CSR programs. Responses fell into four basic categories. ..... First, “Lack of Financial Resources” was mentioned by 20 CHROs. Sometimes the response was simply a focus on cost in general, while other times the focus seemed to be a temporary cost focus in light of the poor economic conditions. Second, “Lack of Integration/Alignment” was mentioned by 18 CHROs. This referred to either aligning the programs with the strategy, aligning the programs around a central and coherent theme, or aligning numerous local programs across the globe. Third, “Link to Business Results” described the difficulty in getting buy-in for CSR efforts without a clear link to either profitability or business objectives. This was mentioned by 16 CHROs. Last, “Leadership Support” was mentioned by 8 CHROs and referred to either top management or middle management not being actively supportive of the programs."
Now, doesn't that all sound like a lot of miserable excuse-making rather than practical reasons for inertia?  HR Managers who are personally and professionally committed to a sustainable business approach will not be held back by any of the above, and, on the contrary, will proactively and creatively find ways to make things work, on a low-budget if necessary, without active leadership support, if necessary. HR Managers need to find the link to integration and alignment with business strategy and establish the link to business results so make buy-in easier for their C-Suite colleagues. This is not so difficult. There are clear business benefits, many quantifiable, of creating CSR-enabled recruitment and retention processes, hiring for diversity, engaging employees in energy reduction and recycling and taking and advanced approach to employee health and wellness. There are clear business benefits of creating an aligned organization which supports and advances a CSR approach based on values, stakeholder dialogue and engendering trust. There is potential for  major risk-avoidance as well as business opportunity in all core HR activities. 
Give me any HR Manager of any organization of any size in any sector, and I will help her build a CSR-HR strategy which adds business value, some quantitative, some qualitative, backed by a selling-in approach for the C-Suite. HR Managers who don't know how to do this need to get up to speed fast. As it stands, HR is slowly becoming the back-seat passenger of the sustainability movement. Sooner or later, businesses may decide they don't need so many passengers. As I often say:
"It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!"
PS: If you happen to be planning a trip to Barcelona in June, you may want to catch up with this great conference on Boosting Employee Engagement through CSR in the Digital Era. I will be chairing the day and speaking on "The Present and the Future of CSR and Employee Engagement".

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, November 16, 2012

Viennese Sustainable HRM

This week I had the great honor and pleasure of attending and presenting at a Praxiskolloquium (=  Practical Colloquium, according to Google Translate) on the subject of Sustainable Human Resources Management, hosted by the Vienna University of Economics and Business Institute for Human Resources Management in the wonderful city of Vienna. The day was entitled: "Sustainable HRM: Fashion or Future?" and was well attended by both academics and Human Resources practitioners from Austrian industry.
Of course, it's hard to say that Sustainable HRM is a fashion, as it is hardly being practiced in a meaningful way by most companies (thought there are, of course, some isolated examples of enlightened practice in different companies around the world and, as we heard this week, also in Austria). For something to be fashionable, lots of people have to be doing it and lots more want to be doing it. Drinking McCafe Latte from a designer-made reusable FSC-certified coffee cup is fashionable. Sustainable HRM is not even at first base. Which is why we need to spread the word. Which is why the sort of event that took place in Vienna, in between bites of Viener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel, was quite momentous.
The day opened with an enlightening lecture from Professor Sully Taylor, one of the most accomplished academics in the field of Human Resources Management with a sustainability tilt. Sully Taylor holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and is Professor of International Management and Human Resource Management at Portland State University, School of Business Administration, and Director of International Programs for the School of Business.   Dr. Taylor teaches courses in Leadership, Global Human Resource Management, International Management, and Sustainable Enterprise. 
Sully Taylor, Ph.D
Sully gave an overview of how research into Sustainable HRM can provide a basis for developing good practice, although research in this field is not extensive. Sully presented research from several sources that indicates that positive corporate sustainability image has a positive effect on recruitment and retention because people identify with their companies. An environmental stance can be even more important than pay or layoff potential for some job candidates, according to research.
Sully also referred to the taxonomy of green behaviours developed by Dilchert and Ones as a way to both understand and predict behaviors in recruitment and selection, aid motivation and support performance evaluation and training, tools which can be highly useful for any HR department.
Reproduced from Chapter 5, by Dilchert and Ones, in 
Managing Human Resources for Environmental Sustainability
by Jackson, Ones and Dilchert (2012)

Another interesting point made by Sully is that, when candidates have been recruited on a platform of sustainability, it is important that what they find in the organization matches the expectations set at recruitment time. Otherwise, disappointment sets in and performance and retention suffer. Similarly, on-boarding is critical in order to communicate sustainability from the outset, and in general, employees' immediate supervisors play a very important role in ensuring alignment. If immediate supervisors personally exhibit sustainability commitment and behaviors, this is likely to motivate employees and support retention more effectively than a general company sustainability orientation.
Sully Taylor addressed a whole lot more in her fascinating talk, and made a great case for expanding and broadening the scope and depth of research about how sustainability works in organizations and the role of the Human Resources function. For example, most research to date has been done in relation to business students (MBA), but very little about other professions. More research is required into the social aspects of how sustainability is embedded in organizations, rather than the green-employee environmental focus.
Sully's session was followed by breakout sessions - I attended the one about Sustainable HRM and Human Rights, led by the fabulous Eva Szigetvari, who  is a Project Manager at the Vienna University HR Management Institute. Eva presented the case for greater attention to Human Rights issues by Human Resources Managers and some of the challenges involved, highlighting examples of best and worst practice in actions relating to Human Rights, and also, the way Human Rights issues are (inadequately) reported in Sustainability Reports (more about that on the CSR Reporting Blog - coming soon - watch that space for interesting insights).
My presentation was about the business imperative for Sustainable HRM. Yes, there is one. As usual, my experience is more practical than academic, and I shared reapplicable and scalable ways that the HR function can support business sustainability as a full and equal partner while performing core HR roles in a more sustainable manner. The HR function has stakeholders, says me, and these are more than just management and employees. The HR function must realize the impact of its decisions on society and use this understanding to inform HR policy in a more complete way. Case in point about how not to do it: Didier Lombard, former France Telecom CEO, now indicted for his part in leading a toxic culture in which 35 people committed suicide in 2008 and 2009. 
The afternoon sessions included fascinating discussions about how sustainable practices are currently implemented in Austrian organizations and insights for ways forward. In one discussion, for example, we talked about wellness programs, which tend to be better supported at the HQ of most organizations and less well developed in other locations. In the case of a supermarket chain, for example, where there are extensive wellness and wellbeing options in the Austrian HQ offices, the company is having difficulty ensuring the same frameworks for and engagement of employees who work in stores, where the nature of the work is different and the locations are smaller. These are the good problems. The tougher problems for most organizations are how to get started and where to assign priority. I presented our roadmap (published in the SHRM Foundation's Effective Practice Guidelines on Sustainable HRM, which I co-wrote with Professors Sully Taylor and Michael Mueller-Camen) and offered suggestions as to how to measure HRM impacts and ensure more of a strategic presence for the HR voice at the sustainability decision-making table.
The day was flavored with wonderful Austrian organic and social-enterprise sourced food, and to my great surprise and delight, I was presented at the end of the day with my favorite food of all ... you guessed it: ice cream!
Yes, I did eat it all in one go!
Here's looking forward to hearing more of great Austrian businesses and Sustainable HRM practices!
And a big personal thank you to Professor Michael Mueller-Camen, of the Institute of HR Management at Vienna University, who is both a distinguished academic and a perfect collaborator, host and gentleman.
Oh, and as for fashion or future, I think we all agreed on future.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mom-friendly workplaces. But how friendly?

This caught my eye today: "Unilever Named as Working Mother 100 Best Company For Leadership on Creating Family-Friendly Policy & Culture". This got me wondering what the Working Mother Best Company actually measures. The article cites: "commitment to progressive workplace programs, including child care, flexibility, advancement and paid family leave."
Sumeet Salwan, Unilever's Vice President, Human Resources, Unilever North America is quoted as saying: "It is our job to create a workplace of choice for our employees and to celebrate role models who can inspire the next generation of leaders - those who can successfully manage both their personal and professional lives rolled into one."
The methodology for this ranking as described on is as follows: The 2012 Working Mother 100 best Companies application includes more than 500 questions on workforce representation, child care, flexibility programs, leave policies and more. It surveys the availability, usage and tracking of programs, as well as the accountability of managers who oversee them. For this year’s Working Mother 100 Best, we gave particular weight to child care, flexible scheduling options and advancement programs.
A workplace is not mother-friendly because it has great policies, the workplace is mother-friendly when it implements great policies and programs and delivers results. 
The Unilever North America Profile shows that 44% of hires were women in 2011 and 37% of execs are women, while 48% of women take advantage of flexible working policies. There are also courses in tai chi, yoga and meditation which "have added calm to busy days". This kind of profile is not significantly different from peer companies such as Procter and Gamble, General Mills, Kraft Foods and others. They all cite high levels of women hires, and high levels of execs. However, as a woman, getting a foot in the door and reaching a first-line management position is not all that difficult. Most women are able to do that before they become Moms, probably even before they get married. What would truly worth studying is how many of new hires are Moms, how many execs are Moms and how many Senior Managers and Leadership Execs are Moms.

The Off-Ramps and On-Ramps study by Sylvia Ann Hewitt, President of the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) published in HBR in 2005 remains completely relevant today. This authoritative study showed that 37% of highly qualified women were “off-ramping”—that is, voluntarily leaving their jobs for extended time periods despite the fact that 93% want to return to work. Only 74% succeed in rejoining the workforce and only 40% returned to full-time jobs. 95% of off-rampers would not consider going back to their previous employers. The 2009 review of this trend showed similar results. Apparently, as soon as women become Moms, the workplace is not so attractive. Childcare and family issues are not the only reason for women to leave the workforce, though it is the main one (44%). Maybe another key issue highlighted by the 2004 study is that women who return to the workforce after time out earn significantly less than their peers who remained in work -  37% lower pay after a three year absence.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for 2011 tells a candid story: "Our gender mix is not what we want it to be. Although we have three female Non-Executive Directors on the Board, there is only one woman on the ULE. We are tackling the issue through a diversity board chaired by the CEO and by a requirement that the shortlist for each senior job should contain a woman. Since 2007, the proportion of women in senior positions has risen from 23% to 28%. More than 50% of our graduate recruits are women. In principle, the pipeline is being filled, but our task is to ensure many more reach the top levels." This is both honest and realistic, and shows that Unilever understands its task, but frankly, a 5% improvement of women in senior positions over 5 years, to a mere 28%, shows that Unilever has still to find the right formula to enable women to advance, not only because it's good for women, but because it's good for business. While childcare policies and flexible working - and maybe even yoga and tai chi - may help, this is clearly not the whole story.

And now for a personal anecdote: I first started to work with Unilever in 1997 as a consultant. After a few months, Unilever asked me to join as a  full time employee (VP Human Resources). The very week we signed an employment contract, I realized I was pregnant! I went to my boss, the Chairman of Unilever Israel at the time, and gave him the news. While confirming that I would remain committed to my role, I offered him an "out" suggesting we annul the contract, in case, had he known, he wouldn't have chosen to hire me at that very time. His response was : "Congratulations! Pregnancy is not a sickness. There is no reason to annul our contract. Do whatever you need during your pregnancy - we will be supportive." I continued, of course, in my role, worked till my last week of pregnancy, had my daughter and returned to work after maternity leave.  My boss's response, at that time, was completely reassuring and encouraging, and to this day, that continues to impress me. I off-ramped about 8 years later, and became an independent consultant focusing on CSR, but that's another story.

While I have a personal connection to Unilever and a specific positive experience, and believe that Unilever, in general, is well deserving of a top ranking in the Best Workplace for Moms list, I also think that there is still a long way to go to create truly gender-equal workplaces and that this ranking does not quite reflect the issues involved. Off-ramping is a serious talent drain and a big cost to business. The company that manages to break through the blockers to off-ramping will surely reap the rewards, best list or no best list.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Monday, September 10, 2012

HR : Time to Walk the CSR talk

Maybe the message is getting around. There has been a veritably flurry of articles about the HR function and CSR in the past week of so.

Rue Stanley, of EcoBusiness Exchange, says HR should board the bus before it's too late, saying that "HR can help with some of the major challenges that face organizations wishing to develop their sustainability programs."

Brian Kreissl, of Consult Carswell, says that "HR should care about corporate responsibility". He makes the point: "The HR profession’s desire to be taken seriously as a strategic business partner is also important because CSR is one of those areas where HR professionals can move out of their comfort zones and play a more strategic role."

China Gorman, top HR thought-leader, refers to the Effective Practice Guidelines paper on Sustainable HRM that I co-wrote, and talks to the importance of recognizing HR Stakeholders. She notes the range of HR stakeholders we identified and adds: "It was a good reminder of the breadth of the stakeholders that HR needs to factor into all of its work – whether it’s CSR, talent acquisition, talent management, benefits administration, strategic planning, learning and development – or yes, even the planning of the annual company picnic."
In the meantime, the situation is still an uphill challenge for HR.

A recent article in HR Magazine, UK, one of the best HR publications which always maintains an eye on CSR, notes that "HR decision-makers in the UK are paying lip service to diversity strategy, but they are not following this through with strategic action." This follows a survey of HR Managers in the UK.

Check out this data: "Looking specifically at the strands of diversity, although 82% said diversity and equality were either core to their business, a top priority or important to them, 16% are doing nothing to address age equality, 46% are ignoring sexual orientation, 37% are not addressing ethnic origin, 18% are not implementing gender equality measures, 19% do not have any disability initiatives in place and a massive 70% are not addressing diversity and inclusion dependent on nationality."

Knowing that something is important is not enough. Believing that something is right is not enough. If HR Managers want to be a credible and influential part of any organization, they have to walk the talk. If you want to discriminate, then say so. At least that's honest. Because everything you do that perpetuates a non-diverse culture is discriminatory. Complicity in allowing inequalities to exist in business and lack of encouragement for true equal opportunity means that discrimination and abuse of human rights is acceptable in your organization.

How many HR Managers see it that way? Not many, I suspect.  This is because, in part, they are not accepting accountability for the broader impacts of their role. This brings us back to HR Stakeholders. HR must look beyond employees and managers and also consider the impacts on society of HR decisions.
Yes, it's time for HR to walk the talk, board the bus and wake up to CSR! 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Are HR Managers asleep?

No? Maybe they should be! An article published by the Good Company Newsletter of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP) reports that there are hidden workplace costs to employee health, happiness and productivity. People who engage in unhealthy sleeping habits are putting not only their own sustainability at risk, but also that of their organization. This could be one explanation for the lack of productivity of HR Managers in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. Perhaps, with a little more sleep, they may become more enlightened, more productive and more prepared to consider adopting practices which will enable their workplaces to thrive over the long-term.

Lack of healthy sleep takes its toll in several areas, according to the PHWP. Here are just some of the downsides noted in the article by Dr Larissa Barber.  

  • decreasing level  of involvement at work, hindering job performance
  • poorer decision making
  • lower concentration on complex tasks which require analytical ability etc
  • making errors
  • negatively impacting team performance
  • strained relationships
  • lower retention of learned information
  • lower cognitive performance which negatively affect safety practices
  • poor work-life balance
  • increased stress

If you are an HR Manager (and assuming you are not suffering from sleep deprivation), and you know your employees are hindering your organization's performance because they are not engaging in healthy sleep habits, wouldn't you be tempted to make a plan to understand the effect of poor-sleep stress in your organization and consider how to assist employees which suffer from this problem? Wouldn't you be interested to know if there is something about your organization's work culture which might be contributing to the problem? Or would you take the ostrich approach and leave employees to work out their sleep schedules for themselves?

How many times do you see "lack of sleep" on an organizational risk matrix? Probably not ever. And yet, this could be one significant, silent, unidentified drag on your productivity and profitability. Of course, it's impossible to overtake the personal lives and health habits of each and every one of your employees. People are not robots and cannot be expected to adopt every single health practice in all aspects of their lifestyles whether this relates to sport, nutrition, non-smoking, weight-control, ergonomic seating and more. But different people are prone to different influences. Some things affect some people more than others. By ignoring the effects of sleep deprivation, HR Managers may be missing an opportunity to help employees, contribute to the wider quality of life in our society and also, improve business results.

Raising awareness of sleep deprivation and unhealthy sleeping habits and offering simple tools to help employees understand their own circumstances and take action where necessary could be a simple way to identify potential for productivity improvement and reduced conflict in the organization. 

Is this CSR? Of course it is.
Not by coincidence, then, that I have been saying that HR Managers should WAKE UP to CSR.
Now, this can be understood both literally as well as metaphorically.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via on Twitter or via my website

Monday, July 9, 2012

Engouraging HR to wake up to CSR

Today I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to a group of global and regional Chief Sustainability Officers representing nine globally-active companies, all are names that you would all recognize, most of them report on sustainability and have well-developed sustainability programs and a string of achievements to date.

I presented on one of my favorite subjects - CSR for HR - but with a specific slant towards CSR and Employee Engagement and how Human Resources Management can contribute to a culture of sustainability, how CSR can drive employee engagement and how CSR can be leveraged for competency and leadership development. Interesting questions which are crucial for companies interested in making CSR and Sustainability a true part of the business rather than just a set of afterthought projects. I will elaborate on the perspectives and solutions I presented in a future post.

After my presentation, we had some discussion which centered around, primarily, how to get HR people engaged in the objective of creating a sustainable organizational culture. Before the discussion drew to a close, the group host invited me to ask them some questions.

I responded something like this: You are all leading, highly-reputable companies in your respective fields, you all have sustainability programs and achievements, you all communicate on sustainability in some way and many of you have sustainability targets which are quite ambitious. It would seem that employee engagement in sustainability should already be on your radar. Therefore, I was wondering what prompted the discussion about employee engagement and why this is an important area for discussion at this time.

The collective reply went something like this: We are all frustrated with the lack of response from the HR function. They are not getting on board. Instead of embracing a sustainability approach, they don't see it as their job, they are too busy, they are not interested and they are impenetrable. We want to work out how we get HR to the table and have HR become a partner and even leader in sustainability and employee engagement.

So there you have it. Even in the best of companies with the best of programs, the HR function is holding the organization back, instead of realizing that CSR is the key to making a much fuller and more sustainable contribution. Guess what I replied? It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

But I also said that it takes two to tango. I advised this group of accomplished Sustainability Leaders to treat HR as customers, as valued stakeholders, as a group without whom they will not be able to deliver optimal results. This means that if CSR wants HR to wake up, it has to do the waking. As CSO, one of the first partnerships you should be working to develop is with your HR counterpart. If you wait for HR to come to you, you will wait a long time. If you wait for HR to see the light, it may not happen. As CSO, you can both help HR to understand the context and the need, while driving HR to step up to the mark by offering them an opportunity to be involved in developing solutions to sustainable business problems. This is as much a part of the CSO job as pursuing a low-carbon strategy. If, as CSO, you believe your HR function is not on the sustainability track, then make it your job to bring them around. It's a win-win. If you treat them as (equal) partners, maybe they will become (equal) partners. 

Enter Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who said:  “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CSR for HR: Getting the message through

It's easy to assume things. It's easy to assume that, if you have a policy in place, and you have communicated it, or even posted it on an employee portal somewhere, that employees will notice it. Such assumptions rarely turn out to be true, and in the case of Human Resources, it's rather a lazy and irresponsible basis for performing the HRM role. As employees are core stakeholders in any business, HR should not underestimate the need for a proactive process to ensure employees are aware of their rights, entitlements, the policies which affect their working lives and also, of course, their duties and obligations. This is simply good HR. But it's also good CSR.

It is not enough to get the message across.
You have to get the message THROUGH.

A recent article in People Management reports that:  "Nearly half of all employees are not aware of their company’s HR policy ... In a poll of 1,000 workers, only 53 per cent claimed to have knowledge of their employer’s HR guidelines and even fewer (43 per cent) were aware of their company’s structure. Less than a quarter (23 per cent) of those canvassed understood their firm’s corporate social responsibility policy and only 27 per cent knew of their employer’s service guidelines...."

This is squarely in the Human Resources professional camp and should be regarded as a core HR-CSR responsibility of HR Managers.

This responsibility is two-fold:

first, deliver a process in which HR Managers proactively ensure employees are provided with the relevant information and have the opportunity to ask questions

second, design a process for ensuring that HR gets positive confirmation that this is implemented in practice.

Pushing out policies is not the value that HR adds. Getting the message through and engaging the minds and hearts of employees to deliver outcomes which support the business, is the value.

HR Managers: Wake up to CSR!
Wake up to your unique role in your business and to your responsibilities. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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