Why corporate social responsibility is vital for your employer brand

November 22, 2022

Corporate social responsibility - CSR, for short - is playing an increasingly important role in the decisions people make about the companies they choose to buy from, and work for. People are becoming more discerning about the businesses they affiliate with. It’s reflected in the brands they buy, and now on their resumes as well.

What does this mean for businesses? Two things. First, making your CSR efforts a clear component of your brand can help you build a more successful business and attract more customers. And second, it’s vital to connect those CSR initiatives with your employer brand, and your recruitment strategy.

Why is CSR becoming more important?

In part, it’s connected with a broader global trend. There was a time when - except for the most egregious behaviours - it didn’t matter all that much how a company acted. Sustainability and ecological responsibility weren’t the acute priority they are today. A company’s treatment of its employees was secondary to the fact that they offered employment at all. And very few people cared one way or another whether a company donated money, or provided volunteers, to worthy causes.

All that has changed, largely for the better. Companies are held to account for the damage they do to the environment and to people. Major corporations, in particular, are expected to give back to their communities in various ways. As more companies are stepping up to the proverbial plate, people are looking for the businesses they buy from to do more. In fact, results from a 2018 study showed that ⅔ of respondents would switch products to purchase from a ‘purpose-driven’ company.

There’s also a generational dynamic at play. Younger people - Millennials and Gen Z - have higher expectations from companies than previous generations did. They prioritise CSR when making buying decisions, and also employment decisions. In a 2016 survey focused on employee engagement among Millennial employees, 76% said they consider a company’s CSR commitments when deciding where to work, and 64% would refuse a job if the company didn’t have strong CSR practices.

Keeping up with the changing demands of younger customers and prospective employees means making your CSR initiatives a clear part of your company’s value proposition, and then connecting that with your employer brand.

Incorporate CSR into your brand

Most companies are already doing things that qualify as corporate social responsibility. Some more than they realise. So the first step is taking an inventory of the things you’re already doing.

Start with your values, particularly areas where you ‘walk the talk’ in some way. It could be a commitment to employee health and wellness. It may be making environmental sustainability a priority.

How do those values connect with day-to-day actions? Perhaps you offer your employees more flexible work arrangements so that they can better balance their family priorities. Maybe you make purchasing decisions that take your company’s carbon footprint into account. Your values may also drive other actions that are more traditionally identified as CSR. Donations to organisations that do good work in the communities you serve, for example, or sponsoring or attending fundraising events.

Whatever you’re doing now, you can build on it as well. If the company is donating funds to support worthy causes, consider engaging your employees in that effort. A donation-matching program, for example, can compound the impact of your corporate philanthropy while also strengthening the values connection between the company and your employees.

Rewarding and encouraging volunteering can have a similar compounding effect. Providing the opportunity for employees to contribute time and effort to a cause, and recognising them when they do, is a great way to make people feel good about giving back. In one employee engagement study, 74% of respondents said their job is more fulfilling when they have opportunities to make a positive impact. When employees do this in groups - whether it’s organised by the company, or in a more grassroots sort of way - it’s also a fantastic team-building exercise.

One last point: whatever CSR initiatives you talk about and participate in, be authentic. As more companies are finding ways to do good, there are also some companies slapping hollow CSR claims like a veneer, such as greenwashing. If you’re not sincere about your efforts, you could do more harm to your brand than if you did nothing at all.

If your business has a well-developed CSR strategy, you may be doing all of the things mentioned here. Only a few companies, however, intentionally close the gap between their CSR initiatives and their employer brand. Companies that don’t are missing out on a huge opportunity: attracting talented employees who put their values front and centre when it comes to the companies they work for, and who share a commitment to the same things you do.

Connect CSR initiatives to your recruitment strategy

To make the most of this opportunity, it’s essential that you close that gap, connecting your CSR activities with your talent strategy. Tactically speaking, this will differ from one business to another. In every case, though, the thinking should be the same. Build from the inside out.

First, empower your employees

In every respect, your employees are the most effective ambassadors for your employer brand. They are the ones living it from day to day. And their engagement with your CSR initiatives is no exception. In fact, stories told by employees can carry far more weight than messages communicated by the company’s official channels. It pays to start here.

We already touched on how important it is to make sure your employees are aware of the things your business is already doing and to give them opportunities to participate in your CSR stories. For better or worse, each of us is more connected through social media than ever before, so empower your staff to share those stories with their networks. If every member of your staff told two friends, and then they told two friends, and so on … well, the exponential power of this network can’t be understated.

For the stories themselves, focus on two areas: the activity and the outcomes. Whether your staff engage in volunteer work as a team or individually, photos and videos of those activities on social media speak volumes about the way the company they work for is supporting their community. Measuring and sharing outcomes - the results of the activity - is equally impactful, particularly when it tells a human story. It’s great to see that a certain number of person-hours were committed, or a specific donation amount was reached. It’s even better to be able to say how many people were supported by that, and in what ways they were helped.

Then, enable your recruiters

Your recruiters are on the front lines of your recruitment strategy every day. They’re the ones turning over every stone to find the top performing candidates you need, having initial conversations to spark interest in working for you, assessing them for fit in your organisation, and ‘closing the deal’ with a compelling case of why they should choose to work for you. At every stage in this process, your recruiters need to be armed with as much information as possible about the CSR initiatives in which your company engages.

Any CSR activities should ultimately have a prominent place on your website. In particular, they deserve a mention on your careers page. Top-performing candidates are discerning, and they give weight to an organisation’s reputation and community commitment. They want to work for a company whose CSR practices line up well with their values and beliefs. What better place is there to showcase your company values and the work you’re doing to be more ethical, sustainable and socially responsible?

Your recruiters - internal and external alike - need this information as well. At all times, your team of recruiters should be aware of the most recent activities that the company has supported - volunteering, fundraising, or something else - and the impact resulting from that activity. If your activities are formalised to this degree, even a CSR-focused brochure to be left with candidates after interviews, and handed out at recruitment events, can be a useful piece of recruitment collateral.

Finally, engage your community

Working from the inside out, you’ve empowered individual employees and recruiters to tell your CSR stories. This is the time to engage the more formal communication channels.

CSR warrants a prominent place on your website. We talked about your careers page earlier, and certainly, it should appear there. If your programmes are highly structured, you may even want to have a section of your website that is entirely devoted to your community activities. 

CSR activities should be mixed in with the messages on your social media channels as well. In this respect, however, we recommend thinking more about amplifying than broadcasting. As mentioned earlier, messages from individual employees can be perceived as more credible than those from official channels, since ‘corporate’ messaging is seen as marketing. Where it’s possible, in addition to telling your own stories, seek to share the stories that your employees are telling about your company’s CSR. Retweeting and sharing their posts lifts your employees up, giving them a bit more profile, in this case in the context of doing good. That’s a win. It’s also a win because they’re telling your stories for you. Giving them the authenticity they deserve.

The takeaway: CSR must be part of your employer brand

People’s expectations of companies have evolved. It’s no longer enough for companies to ‘do no harm’. They’re now expected to ‘do good’. That holds true for the companies people choose to buy from, and also the ones they choose to work for. Inventory the good things you’re already doing, empower and support your employees in becoming part of those good things, and arm your recruiters with the impactful stories they need to recruit and hire top candidates who want to work for the very best.

Keen to take your recruitment game to the next level and take the hassle out of reference checks and pre-employment screening? Get in touch today to get started. 🦾