CSR for Smaller Businesses – Employees and Workplace

Welcome to Part Four of the series on CSR for smaller businesses. Today’s post is going to look at every company’s most valuable resource, employees.


 Happy Employees

As in previous posts, the idea is to provide jargon free advice for activities that are simple and inexpensive to implement. At this point in the series it’s still about looking for shorter term benefits to justify a deeper and more strategic look at CSR a few posts down the line.


Before we head into the suggestions and examples I’d like to point out what this post isn’t. I’m assuming that your organisation is complying with the appropriate employee related legislation. If it isn’t or you’re not sure, go and check first. We can’t build on unsound foundations! This is about looking at the business opportunities for going beyond compliance using available time and financial resources.


Areas covered will include looking at how we can improve recruitment, increase productivity and increase retention.


Let’s get straight into how you can benefit:



1.    Its good to talk

How well do you know your staff? I’ve seen countless times where employees have unveiled hidden talents not listed on any CV, application form or job description that can benefit your organisation. To get the best out of your employees you need to know each of them as individuals. If your recruitment, appraisal and management processes are from a template and managed like a conveyor belt you’ll get products not employees. Right now amongst your staff you may have an eco-warrior, a Twitter or blogging expert, a charity fundraiser extraordinaire or a fitness guru, who could all potentially add further value to your organisation at little additional expense. If you can tap into people’s true passions and exploit complimentary skills you’re onto a winner. We’ll look at how to utilise skills such as these throughout the post.



2.    Recruitment

In an increasing number of recruitment situations, especially for higher skilled positions, potential employees are grilling businesses on topics such as work-life balance, values, environmental position and volunteering opportunities. For higher skilled jobs those seeking employment can be confident of a decent salary and being able to demonstrate a commitment to CSR can add real value. This is even more prevalent with graduates and Generation Y’ers as CSR, sustainability, ethics and climate change are further integrated into the academic curriculum and are saturating the internet and other media. Can you exploit your ethical credentials to these types of job seeker’s questions to attract better employees?



3.    Get the staff out of the officevolunteering

Getting your staff out of the office and supporting a good cause works well for many reasons. No matter how small your business you can spare at least a couple of employee hours (especially at low periods) to paint a fence, read to a child, clean a river bank etc. Any time spent away from work will be more than made up for by an energised workforce, not to mention the new skills, change of scenery and feeling of satisfaction. The business will benefit from improved reputation, stimulated workforce, and who knows maybe even a little networking or new client or supplier from the relationship.


I would suggest at least having a company volunteering event as a group to build team spirit and for more formal appropriate PR opportunities. It’s also worth offering your employees the chance to take some time volunteering for a charity they feel personally close to. Offering volunteering as a contractual benefit is an inexpensive, yet effective way of adding value to employee packages.



4.    Charity begins at work

We’ll brace the subject of the business supporting good causes and charities in later post. This post is about employees supporting appropriate causes at work, i.e. allowing themed fundraising days and also making individual donations through their pay slips. By allowing managed use of company time or resources to support a particular cause you can break up routine and engage with appropriate causes. It’s good for morale and can also generate some positive PR.


Charitable giving can be painlessly facilitated through payroll at very little cost which effectively reinforces the company’s ethos of being a good citizen. Each employee can select their own charity or you could suggest a good cause that the company supports formally. There are external organisations that specialise in establishing and managing such projects at very reasonable costs. Not all employees will take up this offer to make a small donation each month but at least you will be seen to be facilitating this and play your part, even if nobody takes it up!



5.    Flexible working

We looked at this from an environmental perspective in last week’s post. This time I’d like to look at it from an employee and productivity position. We’re not just talking about working from home this time. I want to look at all the options and why they can work in the right situation. There are numerous options to manipulate working hours or responsibilities including staggered hours, compressed hours, shift swapping, job sharing, flexi time and home working. In the UK there is now legislation requiring employers to consider flexible working requests but these options should be looked at as business opportunities rather that yet another burden. Larger companies such as BT report productivity improvements of 20 – 30% using these techniques. Home working in particular can offer interesting headaches such as employees working too much, not a problem many managers face in an office setting!



6.    Health

Your employees tend to be more productive when they’re not in bed sick. How much does it cost you if somebody takes time off? Here are a few suggestions to help your employees perform to their best of their ability:


·   Set up a company running / walking / sports team or club.

·  Promote cycling to or at work. There are tax incentives to purchase bikes in UK.

·  Encourage, pay for or subsidise yoga, Pilates or aerobics sessions at workplace or local venue.

·  Make the stairs a more attractive place than the lift! Pictures and paint make a world of difference.

·  Provide fresh fruit and drinking water, or a fridge for employees own food.

·    Have regular health topic awareness days to highlight issues like cancer, back pain, asthma ordiabetes.

·    Promote Fairtrade or organic products.

·     Have a quite room for reading and relaxing, away from any food & drink space.



Don’t forget emotional health. People tend not to talk about their own problems but 1 in 6 people are experiencing mental health issues at any one time. If your employees are having problems away from work these will almost always effect their performance in work. I’m not suggesting that every business should provide a counsellor but it costs nothing to provide contact details or website address for agencies and services to support just about every mental or emotional problem you may encounter. How about asking a masseur or beautician to spend a day giving neck rubs or facials at a discounted price for offering access to your workforce?


There will be local agencies that will be keen to help you with most of these types of initiatives at little or no expense, just make a call or search the internet.



7.    Physical environment

If you’re asking somebody to spend a third of their waking life in your business you need to make it as energising and pleasant as possible. Corporate grey, filing cabinets, no windows, poor lighting and poor ventilation doesn’t really inspire anybody to do they’re best.


One small business client we worked with the employees just wanted to put the radio on. Management did know they wanted this and the employees thought that management wouldn’t allow it! Just by allocating a short amount of time to talk about work space conditions with employees will unearth hidden gems of ideas that make a difference.


·   Do you provide showers or somewhere to change if people want to cycle to work?

·  Are employees allowed to decorate their own work space?

·  Do you consult employees about general work space decoration and colour schemes?

·  Is there adequate ventilation into the work space?

·  Could you have plants / greenery tended by green fingered employees?

·  How about an office pet?



8.    Being sociable

By this I do not mean early finishes on a Friday and an afternoon in the bar. Keep events formal but fun! Most businesses have a Christmas event (which should be properly managed) but what about an end of financial year or seasonal event? It could even by tied into supporting a charity. How about a ‘bring your child (or pet!) to work day’ may need some management but great fun and fantastic change to the daily grind. Be creative.

 Times Best 100 SME


9.    Get recognition

If you’ve got a great workforce tell people! Apart from the obvious aura given off by your business and its employees, the next best step is to gain accreditation such as Investors in People or look to enter a ‘Best Company to Work For’ type award. Don’t forget to put any of these onto your website (not hidden away) and recruitment literature.



10. Twittering, Blogging and Facebooking

If you’re a small business and you’re not using these tools you are missing out. Social media for smaller businesses should be better described as free PR, free advertising, enhanced internal communication and improved customer relationship management. Not one of them alone is a miracle answer to make millions but they can individually, or better still integrated together in to an online marketing strategy, really deliver impressive results. Who is the secret Twitterer / Blogger / Facebooker in your business? Twitter is a great way to gather information, make contacts or conduct research. I now have over 2000 people I can connect directly with on Twitter. Not a bad start when looking to promote, research or network, and all free. Come and say hello @davidcoethica.


Social media is also great for improving communications internally if managed properly. Yes, there is always room for abuse with social media but none more than photocopiers, stationary cupboards, employee room fridges, telephones and fuel cards, and we’ve learned how to manage these to our advantage efficiently. Don’t be afraid of new technology – use your internal champions. A company Facebook group could provide great free branding, lead generation and compliment (or stand alone as) your employee newsletter. As long as you have a clear policy on how all employees can use these tools during business hours you should see the benefits quite quickly.




All of these suggestions need managing and I understand that we’re all busy keeping heads above water especially at the moment, but think of these as investments to improve productivity and research potential initiatives with a return on investment approach. You will be surprised at the returns you can deliver quickly and with little financial input.


There are many agencies and incentives for businesses to engage in initiatives such as these, you just need to make a little time to discuss and find a champion to coordinate.


For inspiration take a look here at what benefits Google offer to their employees.


By taking extra time with employees you can easily reduce turnover, improve productivity and enhance recruitment. If you consider the cost of having to advertise, recruit, interview, train and allowing somebody to get to full speed in new position, then a short amount of time and maybe a small budget is worth investing in.


Please add a comment or example you’re aware of about great employee management for others to share.


4 thoughts on “CSR for Smaller Businesses – Employees and Workplace

  1. Mary

    I’m stockpiling articles like this to give to the LACCD and other companies who are afraid of social media. It’s all about treating people like people and not cattle.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Mary.

      I completely agree. There is far too much dehumanisation of strategy and consideration of individuals out there. If you need anything else just let me know.



  2. Kim Clune

    Hi David,

    Great suggestions here. Working freelance, I just took myself shopping for a new office paint color and a chaise. It matters! If only I could offer myself retirement…

    Seriously, I do work for a great organization, VillageVolunteers.org. We focus on sustainable solutions for village empowerment in Kenya, Ghana, India and Nepal. Recently, a company contacted us because the workforce voted to support a water filter project which provides safe drinking water to orphanages in Kenya. It was an amazing effort. Each employee has a certain amount of money taken directly from their paycheck and we supply certificates of thanks and progress. This company has a great deal to feel proud about. And that, unlike my office color, matters a great deal.



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