Corporate Social Responsibility - The secret to employee retention

The secret to real employee retention may already be in your organisation's toolkit. But guest contributor Scott Friedman, an international speaker on employee engagement, says CSR needs to be driven by staff's own personal values in order for it to be effective

Would you like to know the secret to employee retention? Sure, who wouldn’t?

After all, employee engagement drives performance outcomes. And, employee retention is both a result of that engagement and an outcome that keeps performance high.

According to research by emotional health expert Dr Steven Stein, the number one predictor of employee retention is the emotional intelligence attribute of social responsibility. That is - employees are loyal to companies that are doing good things in the world.

Not only does our research confirm the importance of CSR to the workforce of today, but more importantly, we believe that “PSR” - personal social responsibility is the foundation of the best CSR programmes that lead to the most effective results. The good news is that it is available to every single company, regardless of size, location, and industry.

A recent study by the United Health Group found compelling evidence that dedicated employee volunteer programmes can help a business in key areas such as productivity, engagement, and synergy. That study found that 96% of employee volunteers believe that volunteering enriches their sense of purpose in life, which naturally leads to more engagement.

Additional research published by organisations such as the Society for HR, the Center for Creative Leadership, the MIT Sloan School of Business, Aon, and The Conference Board all tends to reinforce the power of tapping into the passion of your employees to make a difference in the world.

In our personal experiences, not only with hundreds of clients, but also with our own partnership with the nonprofit group we established, called Together We Can Change The World (, the key is PSR. That is what drives us to educate impoverished children in Southeast Asia and provide them with an opportunity for a self-sustaining life.

The bottom line? CSR is grounded in personal values… in PSR. And, by that we mean the PSR of the board, the CEO, the leadership, and the PSR of every single employee.

Tap into those values and you’ve got a powerful CSR programme.

The deeper the connections between CSR programmes and the core values of the organisation, its leaders and employees, the more credible the end results will be in the eyes of the business community, and even more importantly, in the eyes of your employees and their families.

Let’s look at some real-life examples.

Bill Taylor is an HR consultant living in Seattle, home of Microsoft and Starbucks, and has had a chance to spend time with both. Microsoft’s CSR programme is called its “Citizenship Giving Campaign” and is deeply ingrained in the corporate culture, and designed with the employees in mind.

In this ongoing programme, directed by a rotating team of two senior executives, six “Loaned Executives” are appointed annually. Then, following a month of full-time training, these Loaned Executives spend another three months championing the Citizenship Giving Campaign throughout the Microsoft organisation. They extend their reach through a team of 300 Vice President Appointed Leads, who then become the front line of the annual giving campaign. These vice presidents then carry the programme ideals –and practices – throughout Microsoft.

In 2012 the programme resulted in more than US$100 million contributed to over 18,000 non-profit organisations, followed by another US$108 million to an even larger number of non-profits in 2013. The lifetime total for the programme now exceeds US$1 billion. (Incidentally, this is all over and above whatever takes place with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

How do they make this happen? The short answer is deep employee engagement. They’ve tapped in to a vast resource of PSR. All employee contributions to a non-profit organisation (of the employee’s choice) are matched dollar for dollar up to a maximum of $15,000 per year. And, all employee volunteer time for non-profits (again, of the employee’s choice) is matched at a rate of $17 per hour. In addition, employees are encouraged to conduct on-site fundraisers. Each year there are thousands of these events happening throughout the various Microsoft campuses.

When Bill talked with Patricia Donnellan, one of the leaders of this programme for 2013, several interesting points came out. First of all, she says the programme does not heavily influence recruitment. Because it is such a low-key and primarily internal programme, many candidates are not even aware of it during the interview process. Where it really pays off is in retention – a fact regularly validated in employee surveys. The Citizenship Giving Campaign is often cited by employees that had left Microsoft and then returned as one of the primary reasons for their return.

Starbucks’ efforts in this regard are no less impressive. As with Microsoft, the key emphasis is that the programme – called Community Investments – is a clear reflection of the company’s core principles and employee values, and is deeply integrated with business strategies. Starbucks’ Chief Community Officer, a member of the top-level leadership team, oversees not only Community Investments, but also HR, the Starbucks Foundation, the Ethical Sourcing team, the Café Practices team, the Environmental team, and the Government Affairs and Shareholder Issues team. Now that’s what we call a deep, integrated commitment to CSR.

Starbucks also has a generous programme of matching both employee financial and volunteer time contributions to non-profit organisations. And, as you might imagine, this results in consistently high engagement scores in employee surveys.

Clearly, Starbucks treats Community Investment as a reflection of its core values throughout the 200,000-employee worldwide organisation – and not just an “add-on” to the business model.

Another particularly noteworthy experience was when I met recently with The Tata group from India, globally known not only for its wide range of quality products, but also for its contributions to charity.

Amar Sinhji, Head of HR at Tata Capital, says the company shows compassion for its employees and the community. He explains how Tata contributes to many non-governmental organisations and charities as well as to a number of the many religious and cultural celebrations throughout India. It is a basic premise of every Tata Company to give back to the community through service and support. Tata Group grounds its CSR programme in PSR and reaps the benefits in terms of employee engagement and retention.

The company Netapp, which consistently appears on various “best employers in the world” lists, allows their staff (100,000 worldwide) to take a week off (paid) to do any volunteer work they want. According to Dorsey Delavigne, an engineer we interviewed, the volunteer work can involve anything from working in a youth home to travelling to Africa to help build a school. Can you imagine the impact internally?

We believe that every single organisation, regardless of size, location, or industry can develop a strong, effective CSR Programme. Here are our ten recommendations for doing just that:

  • Begin at the top. Drive your CSR programmes with values emanating from your CEO and your Board of Directors with your employees in mind.
  • Ground your CSR programme in “PSR”. Tap into the power of your employees – readily available to you
  • Think in broad, integrated terms. CSR is more than just charity. Where are the critical junctions between your corporate values, employee passions, the communities in which you do business, and the financial success of your business? What are the opportunities for service there?
  • Seek meaningful partnerships with non-profit organisations. Perhaps there are direct connections with your business goals, corporate values and employee interests.
  • Market the programme internally. Create energy around it. Get the employees engaged – really engaged. Have them help design the programme. Support what they want to support.
  • Give your employees a platform to promote their cause. By helping employees engage other employees, the community and the organisation in their cause, it will be difficult for the employee to leave for greener pastures.
  • Spend some money. Don’t attempt to do it on the cheap. Match employee donations. Contribute for employee volunteer time. Support employee fundraising activities in a variety of compelling ways.
  • Train. Educate. Don’t expect everyone to just know why CSR and PSR are important or how to do them. Lead with examples. Show the way. Walk the talk.
  • Make it unique. Don’t simply copy what someone else is doing. Sure, borrow some good ideas. But then adapt them to your own unique circumstances. Do CSR/PSR your own special way.
  • Have some fun. Fun leads to engagement. Engagement leads to service. Service leads to connection. Connection leads to retention. Who knows… that might even lead back to fun.


Catch Scott Friedman & Bill Taylor ‘live’ at the STJobs HR Summit 2014
28-29 April 2014
Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre

Top three takeaways
  • How to keep employee morale high and turnover low
  • Why CSR is critical in talent attraction and retention
  • Tips on creating an effective CSR strategy
Explore how great companies such as Microsoft and Starbucks keep employee morale high and turnover rates low in this informative session. Scott Friedman and Bill Taylor will detail how an employer’s commitment to CSR is increasingly crucial to attracting and retaining its workforce. Attendees will learn powerful strategies in creating a CSR programme that will not only win HR high praise, but also help you keep your best employees and become an employer of choice.

A former President of the National Speakers Association (NSA), Scott Friedman inspires and entertains with interactive and content-rich presentations. His main areas of expertise are employee innovation, celebration and customer experience. Friedman has written three books, including Celebrate - Lessons Learned from the World’s Most Admired Organisations.

As past President of the National Speakers Association and founder of the Global Speakers Summit Friedman has a long track record of community and professional service. He is co-founder of Together We Can Change The World (TWCCTW) Fund ( supporting disadvantaged children and women throughout SE Asia.

Bill Taylor CMC is a long-time human resources management consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He spends most of his time these days with his own non-profit organisation, The SE Asia Children’s Foundation ( focused on breaking the cycle of poverty by providing education for disadvantaged children and women in SE Asia – and collaborating with Friedman on TWCCTW projects.
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