In a global marketplace, a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) is as tied to its brand as the ‘secret sauce’ of its ingredients. We look at CSR as a bonus – something we can feel good about when we use a product or service.

But a new wave of thinking asks whether CSR includes our own employees, and if not, why not? Are we sacrificing staff for a public profile that doesn’t reflect the way we treat our own? Creating a workspace that supports employees and their families, as much as they support the company, is a new paradigm in corporate social responsibility.

Yes profits mean paychecks, but relentlessly pursuing profit at the expense of our most valuable asset – people – leads to turnover, low engagement and productivity. Each drives the company down, making the pursuit of profits even more urgent, again driving down retention and performance. It’s a vicious circle that can never resolve because the core issue is not addressed.

CSR from Within

Many companies (and governments) have taken a step off the profit treadmill to evaluate how corporate social responsibility from within benefits staff as well as the bottom line. They seem to be shifting from the work/life paradigm to a life/work paradigm. By putting employee satisfaction first, they reap the benefits of engaged, high performing staff while still keeping the bottom line happy. 

Colgate Palmolive, seems to have it figured out. They’ve been on Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list for 17 years, offering a variety of options to balance life and work. Sixty-seven percent of their employees take advantage of flex-time opportunities, with 41 percent who telecommute. New mothers are offered up to nine weeks of paid time off, and when they return, the company offers on-site lactation space, nursing hotlines and subsidized backup care.

In a 2016 interview, Kintone President Osamu Yamada discussed his time as CFO for parent company Cybozu in 2000. The company was wildly successful: the fastest company to IPO in Japanese history. Today, it’s the number one groupware provider in Japan, with market share larger than IBM or Microsoft. 

In 2000, Yamada saw a turnover rate of 28 percent annually as an opportunity to transform the company by focusing on gender equality and employee satisfaction. In an interview, he discussed introducing company policies that include remote work, flexible working hours and parental leave that guarantees employees their jobs for up to six years.

In less than a year, the company cited a sharp increase in employee motivation and productivity. Today, they believe their success is attributed to less focus on profit and more on people. For four years, they’ve been ranked the best place to work in Japan, as well as the best place for women to work by Great Place to Work. 

Beyond Your Walls

In-house CSR extends beyond the employee and company: it benefits the community overall. Flexible start/end times help ease traffic congestion during rush hours, particularly in major metropolitan areas. Telecommuting employees avoid clogging the highways. The need to reduce traffic is also significant. The federal government and some states offer vouchers to employees to spend on public transportation rather than take to the roads.

American Express reports its employee flex BlueWork program realizes savings of $10-15 million per year just in real estate costs. Aetna boasts 47 percent of its workforce takes advantage of flexible work options, saving the company $78 million per year in the same category. When you factor the carbon footprint to heat/cool and maintain that much square footage, the benefit increases exponentially to the company and the community.

Government CSR

Many governments have long recognized the life/work balance and have enacted laws in support of individuals and families:

Norwegian parents share 46 weeks of parental leave at 100 percent pay or 56 weeks at 80 percent pay after the birth or adoption of a child. Having multiples? Tack on an additional 5 weeks per child.

In France, mothers receive 16 weeks paid time off for a single birth, 34 weeks for twins and 46 for triplets. After their third child, the benefit increases to 26 weeks. Leave pay is at 100 percent at a maximum of €540 per week.

Not a meré ou peré? In January 2017 the French enacted the Right to Disconnect Law: establishing employee rights not to be emailed or texted off hours. Widely touted as a win for workers, the law may have surprising benefits to employers, as well.  Workplace stress is estimated to cost US companies as much as $190 billion annually in healthcare costs: a leading stressor – workplace emails.

Not Just for Babies

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower provides grants and incentives for companies to implement flexible working arrangements (FWAs) for any employee. They provide Developmental Grants up to $40,000 to pilot or sustain existing flex work arrangements, up to $20,000 to defray the cost of lactation facilities, and up to $120,000 over 3 years to support FWAs for 5 or more employees. 

In the UK, all employees have the right to request flex time, including job sharing, working from home, part-time or compressed hours, annualized hours, and more. Employers must respond to the request and provide a reasonable reason to deny, at which point, staffers can bring the case to an employee tribunal to adjudicate. Australian workers have similar rights under their Fair Work Act. 

For US government employees, the Telework Enhancement Act has allowed work from home for many federal employees since 2010.

CSR: One Employee at a Time

Perhaps the mega workplaces - where you eat, sleep, workout, drop off your kids, and pick up your dry cleaning without a breath of fresh air aren’t the offices of the future. Maybe they could take a lesson in life/work balance from these beacons in the marketplace. Those who’ve shifted to the life/work paradigm are finding their staff sees the company as their life’s work.

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