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Corporate Social Responsibility and the ‘New Normal’

As lockdown restrictions ease there is a vast amount of speculation about what the ‘new normal’ workplace will look like post pandemic. Industry professionals, insiders, futurists, even you and I are hazarding a guess at the future of office life. Will we all return to the office building? What level of government involvement will there be in our companies? How will we continue to adapt? The list goes on, but what about our social responsibility?

COVID-19 has truly shaken every organisation over the last 6 months. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re sure you can name numerous examples of acts of kindness which have emerged from the pits of this pandemic. Companies turning their hands to PPE making, car manufacturers switching to building ventilators, donations to food banks for those affected by job losses and ill health. Enterprises of all sizes around the globe have been pitching in however they can.

Though not necessarily intentionally, these acts of goodwill factor into a business’ Corporate Social Responsibility. This social kindness was not part of some CSR program which took months in the planning, it was reactive, responsive, and intuitive. It was businesses doing the right thing in the moment and doing what they could to help out. The mentality that ‘we’re all in this together’.

Here we look at how CSR fits into ‘the new normal’. Can we continue to be united by the coronavirus? Will businesses sustain ‘doing their bit’ going forward? And is the meaning of corporate social responsibility shifting?

The ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality is set to continue

Big business will be all too aware of how they have as much an obligation to society as they do to their shareholders. Fortune 500 companies forked out an estimated $20bn on CSR in 2018. But as a reaction to COVID-19 more companies than ever - of all sizes - have been looking at how they can ‘give back’ to their communities.

Not only have the approaches changed - with actions becoming less planned and more reactive - but so too have the motives for acting responsibly. The pandemic has instilled a sense of global unity, a much-used phrase is that ‘we’re all in this together’. With this mindset comes actionable, positive changes. Acting with social responsibility has become less about improving a business’ external reputation, and more about supporting the cause, and helping (in any small way) to be part of a solution.

Post pandemic we are set to see that mentality continue with businesses acting with care for society. Be it giving back to the community on a local level or fighting a shared fight on a global level - be it a social, environmental, or sustainability cause. The motives will be less concerned with profit and reputation, and more about consciously acting in a responsible way.

CSR and your employees

The pandemic has undoubtedly taught us a lot about the people that make a business. Staff have been laid off, furloughed, and made to work from home in a monumental shake up. A recent article on Forbes likens the current situation to that of the 9/11 attacks, which caused millions of people to change career paths. It predicts that in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic we will be rethinking our careers. For that reason, it is more important than ever that companies recognise the value of embedding positive practices for employee retention.

At the core of employee retention is the people. What matters to your employees should matter to you, and vice versa. And in that way CSR has a direct correlation with employee engagement.

The coronavirus situation has taught organisations the worth of prioritising employees. Managers have been checking in on staff whilst remotely working. There has been improved understanding of mental health, and flexibility around personal circumstances. Companies must make such practices a habit for the future. Shared values and a supportive environment can only have a positive effect. Prioritising corporate social responsibility will improve employee retention as company and employees’ values align, and a feeling of connectedness is instilled.

The pressure to be real

What matters to your employees in terms of support and values is of huge importance, as is being transparent. A key takeaway from the pandemic is that transparency is more important than ever. Businesses will feel a pressure to be real. Employees care, and consumers care, and for that reason CSR needs to be more than just ‘lip-service’.

It is no longer enough to make an annual donation to charities and run a few staff ‘away days’ volunteering. A new benchmark has been set for what it means to be socially responsible, and companies will need to do more going forward. Whether it’s in terms of staff values (issues of mental health, connectivity and wellbeing) or global causes (such as sustainability, environmental issues, or issues of equality and social politics); businesses will be under real scrutiny to do more, to make a stand, to do the right thing.

The time of change is now. The meaning of CSR is shifting as part of the ‘new normal’. No longer is CSR a box to tick. Acting responsibly must be fully integrated into company policy.