HR & Management

Corporate social responsibility is relevant to all firms – regardless of size and influence

6 min read

15 October 2015

In his new book, Lord Browne, former CEO of BP, enthuses about corporate social responsibility – and he’s not the only one. As such, we talked to Steve Wilkins, HR manager at FedEx Express, on why SMEs shouldn't think that CSR is the preserve of larger companies.

Browne and his co-authors surveyed a range of company executives and discovered that 89 per cent of them believed that “companies have a moral responsibility to address societal and environmental issues that go beyond legal requirements.”

All well and good, but what benefits does corporate social responsibility (CSR) bring to a company, other than good PR? Plenty, according to Steve Wilkins, HR manager at FedEx Express.

“The modern workplace is constantly evolving, and employee development strategies need to develop accordingly,” he said. “Companies should be responsible for the communities and environments they serve and, at FedEx, we’ve noticed that employees are a driving force behind ensuring their company plays an active part.”

He pointed to recent research by the CIPD, which made a connection between CSR activities and employee development to help both businesses – whatever the size – and individuals grow. 

The CIPD report, called “Volunteering to learn: Employee Development Through Community Action“, highlights the importance of investing in the workforce through collaboration between HR, learning and development (L&D) and CSR departments, and how volunteering can have a significant impact not only on personal skills but on a company as a whole.

“Although qualifications and the right skillset remain important, companies are increasingly looking for well-rounded individuals who hold expertise outside of their normal job requirements, which is why volunteering, should be considered a viable addition,” argued Wilkins.

Many SME owners and managers think that CSR is appropriate to large corporates which have the resources to develop and implement such activities. However, Wilkins pointed out that FedEx has a large number of SME clients and it knows the challenges that lay ahead. 

“CSR is relevant to all companies regardless of size and influence,” he argued. “For SMEs having employees with a range of skills is beneficial in order to help their business grow, and volunteering is a viable option to achieve this.

“It can help to develop the skills needed for leadership and managerial roles, allowing individuals to climb the ranks within a business. In turn, increased skills benefit an organisation, as individuals bring in new perceptions and expertise, thus contributing to the evolving workplace and encouraging an SME to grow and prosper.” 

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Through volunteering, team members of SMEs recognise how their decisions can impact the wider workforce along with the environment and communities they serve, just as employees of larger companies do.

“This supports individual growth by encouraging them to think about their actions, whether recycling or switching off the lights,” said Wilkins. “At FedEx, we also encourage our employees to volunteer and support our noted charities and our team members regularly donate their time to help renovate Action for Children centres.  Additionally, through increasing awareness of CSR opportunities of this nature, employees are supporting a company’s vision and business philosophy by upholding its values and contributing to its success.”

CSR activities can also improve communication skills – something that is as important for SMEs as much as it is for large corporates. Volunteering encourages staff to communicate with a different audience, thus enhancing their confidence, said Wilkins. FedEx has introduced a CSR Steering Group, which is made up of people from different departments. The committee decides on the type of volunteering activities to undertake as well as encouraging FedEx team members to take part.

This engenders a more collaborative approach, the company findings, providing additional responsibility on leading volunteering activities or organising fundraising, allowing them to mentor junior members to follow their lead and share different skills.

Volunteering provides team members with the chance to collaborate with different departments and to share skills and expertise, claimed Wilkins. By offering employees an opportunity to develop their knowledge by undertaking a role they might not necessarily work in and with people they don’t usually work with, CSR activities can allow them to progress in different areas.

“For example, in my free time,” he said, “I work with an organisation providing charities with HR support and guidance. Any consequent additional understanding I gain of new audiences I transfer to my current role at FedEx. This like other voluntary and CSR initiatives can enhance an individual’s soft skills such as team building and skill sharing.

“Through volunteering, employees interact with a variety of people across an organisation, helping to also increase staff camaraderie while reinforcing a company’s commitment to the workforce,” said Wilkins.

The skills that CSR teaches benefit an organisation whatever its size, he believed. “As individuals bring in new perceptions and expertise, they contribute to the evolving workplace and encouraging the business to grow and prosper.”