The real friction between human resources and CSR

Elaine Cohen, author of  CSR For HR, has a soapbox.

She believes strongly that the human resources (HR) function should play a stronger role in sustainability, perhaps even own it.  Her argument, however, isn't as widely accepted as she would prefer because most HR professionals believe they already do perform most of the activities she describes as "sustainability activities."

For example, employee wellbeing, implementing diversity recruitment strategies, and volunteering programs are often part of the HR department's role. So, how is sustainability any different?

I Don't Believe It!

Almost a decade ago, Simon Zadek and John Weiser published  Conversations with Disbelievers and Ongoing Conversations with Disbelievers.  Essentially, they analyzed a vast majority of executives' reluctance to make CSR and sustainability a priority.

Today, embracing the triple bottom line has gained momentum -- and some might even say, gone mainstream, with most businesses considering CSR an important part of business strategy. However, inside the HR function, conversations with disbelievers continue to take place.

What's the Problem?

Elaine CohenBecause HR concepts are so integral to the definition and end goals of CSR, it is hard for me to understand the level of resistance offered by HR professionals. From Cohen's perspective, however, it is exactly these similarities that create the problem.

For most of Cohen's HR colleagues, often the first sentence is that "we're already doing that!" They feel that they sufficiently meet most, if not all, the duties Cohen categorizes as CSR or sustainability. Diversity: Check, Employee wellbeing: Check. Employee engagement: Check.  However, Cohen maintains that sustainable Human Resources Management is not just a series of tasks; it is the consistent creation of a sustainable culture in the organization and realignment of all HR Practices in a more fundamental way.  

No Pressure From Above

The problem, once you dig deeper, isn't just within the HR department; it's in the leadership suites as well. Most executives don't perceive HR as a key part of sustainability. Quite frankly, most HR departments continue to struggle with their role in strategy and bottom line contribution. Therefore, HR isn't pressured to be part of CSR initiatives; HR leaders lack incentive and don't see it as their responsibility.

Often, their default argument becomes an overcrowding of responsibilities or that their priority is talent acquisition, retention, and development. Many assume they would not get recognition from their superiors for a CSR-based approach to HR.

As a recruiter who has observed this space for more than a decade, most of this opposition to CSR comes down to a siloed thinking that has unfortunately continued to plague corporate corridors and management education curriculum.

Sustainability is Everyone's Job

HR professionals see sustainability in a silo.

CSR, like HR, needs to be overarching. It should be part of every department, a core part of the business, a cultural emphasis, and a strategic priority integrated with every functional goal. But that's not realistic in today's repressed economy and financially-oriented market.

Next page: Pepsi and PwC show how it's done