Why a Period of Economic Uncertainty is the Perfect Time to Focus on Social Responsibility - Social Good Connect

Why a Period of Economic Uncertainty is the Perfect Time to Focus on Social Responsibility

28 September 2020

This year, we have all experienced something that most of us would have previously thought impossible. Catastrophe on a global scale; a trauma that affected every one of us in some way, and, for months, ground our busiest cities to a halt. Due to this, it may not seem like the perfect time to focus on corporate social responsibility.

A world-changing pandemic is something that very few of us could have expected or prepared for, however, its aftermath has resulted in a level of economic uncertainty which many of us have seen before.

As the newspapers report hundreds of thousands of redundancies over the last few months, new graduates are having their job offers revoked, and across the companies are making very difficult decisions, one of the lessons we can learn from the Great Recession of 2008 is that, though it may seem counter-intuitive, now is the time to focus on corporate social responsibility.

What can we learn from the last recession?

In 2008, as the Western world was plunged into the greatest economic uncertainty of a generation, it seemed that all bets were off for social responsibility in business.

What had previously been a widening acceptance that companies had a social duty as well as an economic one would surely be forgotten as soon as it became a matter of economic survival.

But this is not what happened.

In fact, studies have shown that while there was an initial decrease in funding for CSR activities, the long-term impact was that companies began to understand social responsibility as a corporate strategy.

Placier Klara writes in their 2011 study that ‘recession simply showed that CSR has helped companies to survive better the economic crisis, has taught what the real CSR is, and how it can be beneficial not only for business but also for the society’. (P. Klara, 2011)

Covid-19 and social responsibility

As with the 2008 recession, this crisis is an opportunity to re-think the way we do CSR. And like the previous recession, the social and economic turmoil has shown, not that social good is an unnecessary expense, but that it is an integral part of business today.

Across social media there has been so much talk about the ‘new normal’ and what we want it to look like, that it has become a cliché of the pandemic. But this is not a silly conversation.

How organisations have responded to the crisis and the actions they have taken to support their employees and communities will be remembered for a long time to come, and will influence their reputation as they move back towards ‘the business of being in business’.

Organisations have had to completely re-imagine the way they do business as offices were closed and thousands of employers furloughed. For many, this meant getting creative about how they could give back. Breweries pivoted to produce hand-sanitiser, book suppliers gifted activity packs to school children learning at home, and employers found little ways to boost morale and spread a little kindness.

Support the small guys

The initial rush to support struggling communities just goes to show the importance of CSR and has provided so many moments of positivity. But, writing in May, Dr Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter warned that organisations shouldn’t be too hasty when revamping their social good strategies:

‘Taking a step back and devising more thoughtful and innovative business models that help to contain and deal with the virus outbreak may yield better outcomes. It is vital that well positioned brands and businesses support small suppliers through the crisis; this will ensure their ability to resume production and address jointly potential bottlenecks.’

As we move into later stages of the crisis and start to think of the long-term impact, organisations should continue to consider their stakeholders. Factoring in strategic support for small suppliers, employees and their families, and the wider community will support their recovery better than a blinkered profit-focussed approach.

Making difficult decisions with empathy

Across the country, companies are having to face the hard reality of letting people go. This is not easy for anyone but there are ways to continue to support your people even during a painful process like redundancy.

We spoke to people who have recently faced redundancies, and these are some of the ways they would have appreciated support from their previous employer:

  1. Signposting to free emotional support such as counselling services.
  2. Links to local recruitment agencies, or agencies specialising in the field they work in.
  3. Signposting to practical support such as CV writing tools, advice for interview prep, and general employability advice.
  4. Some form of recognition or thanks for their contribution to the company – nothing more extravagant than a note of thanks from their line manager.
  5. And most importantly, a little care and consideration with their language and tone of voice when communicating with the former employee.

When letting people go, it is so important to treat them with humanity and respect. One interviewee reported feeling very hurt by being referred to in correspondence as ‘Dear non-returning worker’ and being told by her employer: ‘let me reiterate how hard it is for us to do this’. This impersonal and condescending tone leaves employees feeling used and forgotten during an already difficult time. A little extra care and empathy costs nothing but can make all the difference to an employees’ final days in your organisation.

Show your people you are still an organisation who cares 

It is not just the employees who are leaving that you should consider. Those who are still with your organisation are likely feeling anxious, stressed, and upset about having to say goodbye to colleagues. As you move forward, consider ways to show your team that you care about them as individuals and that, although you have had to make some difficult decisions, you will get through it and you are in this together.

Regular and transparent communication is critical, letting your team know why you are making certain choices will help them to understand your decisions and get them on board with any changes that might need to happen. While you may not have the budget for expensive team building events or training days at the moment, you can continue to support their professional development by guiding them towards online courses, and making space to celebrate their personal successes.

Employee volunteering is another great way to support personal development and engage your employees to give back to the causes that they are most passionate about. Studies have shown that volunteering has a positive impact on mental health, and employee volunteers report incredibly high satisfaction rates after taking part in volunteering schemes.

What next?

This has been a difficult year for almost everyone, and a lot of very difficult decisions have had to be made in companies across the world. But as we have seen in previous periods of economic uncertainty, carefully considered social responsibility strategies can be a life-raft for struggling businesses.

How you put people at the heart of your decision making and support them effectively through redundancies or return-to-work will impact your reputation (and your revenue) in the coming months and years.

As we move into the new way of being lets continue to prioritise taking the time to focus on social responsibility the way we have throughout the crisis!

If you want to know more about supporting your team through employee volunteering and how Social Good Connect can help you strengthen your company culture and why the time to focus on social responsibility is now, enquire here or join our mailing list.

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