Corporate social responsibility isn’t what it used to be—along with the usual societal and ethical components that CSR has always measured, new consumer demands regarding Purpose issues like sustainability and ESG, as well as internal and external diversity and inclusion are now metrics of CSR. And when you toss in the new ethical responsibilities of AI use and increasingly volatile data privacy and security, CSR is now an even more urgent and complex matter. And that’s not to mention a fragile new employee relations landscape and the worklife expectations of a demanding new generation in the workforce. And after all that, companies still need to make time to bolster their digital acuity, create some measure of resilience as inflation threats linger, and then maybe even generate some revenue.
All in all, it makes for quite a pressure cooker in the C-suite. And since perception is a huge part of CSR authenticity, new research from transformative learning platform Skillsoft suggests that the pressure is only intensifying—its survey of more than 850 working professionals reveals that just a mere 13 percent say their organization’s CSR commitments are driven by “doing the right thing,” a significant drop from 40 percent who said the same last year. Instead, as altruism of the past gives way to external pressures, half of respondents shared that corporate CSR efforts are now primarily driven by customer feedback, government mandates, and public perception.
The firm’s latest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Work Report determines that motivation aside, organizations and leaders are making CSR a greater priority. Two-thirds of respondents say CSR has become more important since last year and the largest portion said efforts are now being driven by the C-suite, a shift from last year’s findings that showed managers leading the charge.
Under C-suite leadership, 55 percent of respondents also reported CSR budgets increasing for the second consecutive year, with training and education emerging as the top area of investment (41 percent). When asked about the top three benefits of CSR investment, respondents cited improved brand recognition, business reputation, and sales and customer loyalty, respectively.
“CSR has the potential to drive positive change for the world, but it must stem from genuine, meaningful action. When executed correctly, CSR programs effectively balance purpose, product, and profit to create shared value for all stakeholders—customers, investors, and society at large,” said Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, chief marketing and sustainability officer at Skillsoft, in a news release. “Consistent training coupled with full company support will ensure these initiatives are ingrained in every facet of the organization—from sales to operations and finance, and everywhere in between. Whether organizations are just starting or have been on their CSR journey for years, authenticity and education are key and must be interwoven into all aspects of the business.”
For the second consecutive year, the report reveals that the top three CSR program priorities are DEI, improving labor policies, and participating in fair trade, respectively. As laws around the world call for better business practices, CSR programs must match those efforts to be competitive among peers, earn trust and loyalty among customers, and retain and attract talent.
Additional takeaways from the report include:
Generative AI is impacting CSR and ESG
- 84 percent of respondents believe generative AI will impact ESG reporting and decision making.
- The largest portion of these respondents say generative AI already supports governance initiatives by helping with ESG reporting and decision-making processes.
Employees and leadership share a similar opinion on the success of CSR programs
- Respondents rate the overall success of their company’s CSR efforts at 65 percent. They predict leadership shares a similar rating of 66 percent.
- Respondents believe CSR program issues can be remedied by an investment in long-term plans (35 percent), including training and education programs. This was followed by commitment of time and people (32 percent) and the creation of authentic connections and partnerships (20 percent).
CSR reporting differences remain between private and public companies
- 70 percent of survey respondents say their organization publishes an annual CSR report. Only about half (49 percent) of private companies are likely to publish a CSR report, down from 57 percent last year. About the same proportion (51 percent) of public companies are likely to publish a CSR report.
- CSR reports are likely more popular with public companies as they are likely influenced by government mandates and increasing accountability from investors and other stakeholders.
- The health and security of employees and community members remained respondents’ top way to measure CSR success for the second year in a row. New this year, industry and awards recognition, ranked second, followed by greenhouse gas emission levels.
CSR continues to be a priority but may eventually be eclipsed by ESG efforts
- 86 percent of respondents report that their organization has an ESG program, while 71 percent say the same about a CSR program.
- 62 percent say their organization’s focus remains on CSR because it covers a broader range of issues than ESG. Yet, 50 percent say ESG efforts are replacing CSR efforts.
Skillsoft’s survey was conducted online from July to September 2023 using the Qualtrics XM Platform. Skillsoft distributed survey invitations to professionals around the world. The survey was made available in web articles, online newsletters, and social media. The survey yielded 868 complete responses and was then tabulated using the Qualtrics XM Platform.