The connection between CSR and company performance
Various surveys have borne out a very interesting finding – employees who participate in a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) or volunteer activities are generally more engaged and tend to be better performers.
In a 2021 survey conducted across 500 employees in the United Kingdom*1, salary didn’t even feature in the top five reasons for employees being happy at work. The Singapore National Workplace Happiness Results*2, published in 2021, also cited the top three reasons for happiness at work – pride, positive emotions, and gratitude.
A study published in 2021*3 among 764 employees in China across age, educational background, and tenure with the company stated that “CSR initiatives were positively related to employees’ job performance.” Additionally, according to a 2015 American study conducted by the Lewis Institute for Social Innovation at Babson College*4, “businesses with a commitment to CSR could see productivity increases by 13% and turnover reductions by up to 50%.”
There is also an increasing consciousness among the workforce today over environmental sustainability, as well as finding alignment between personal values and company values. In fact, the Lewis Institute study reported that “workers, who were informed about a CSR program, were willing to accept a lower wage (up to 5% pay cut) and were more likely to go ‘above and beyond’ for the employer by doing extra work not required for payment.” The study reported a 7.5% increase in employee engagement for companies with CSR programmes.
Increasingly, employees seem to want to connect with a larger purpose. Employees who participate in their company’s CSR activities tend to be happier. Thus, it stands to reason that a company’s stance on CSR has an impact on employee engagement levels.
Why is there such a strong connection between two seemingly unrelated domains – salaried work and volunteerism?
The surveys suggest that it is not just their salary that makes employees happy at work. Other things also play a part – the sense of recognition they get at work, their achievements, opportunities for growth, good colleagues, and an attachment to the company’s mission and the belief that they are making a difference – that determine if employees will be happy, motivated, and high-functioning.
Making an impact
As human beings, who are essentially social animals, this sense of making a difference or having an impact is a fundamental driver in all of us, because it is directly linked to our sense of self-worth – that our life matters. Making an impact is what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
Therefore, when companies provide an outlet for this very innate need in us to feel useful, through CSR activities, naturally then, satisfaction and engagement levels increase. The workplace becomes no longer just a means to earn a salary. It is then associated with something personally important and aspirational to us – it becomes a place where you know and feel the positive impact you are having on society and the environment that sustains us.
NEC’s evolution as a company has historically been influenced by sustainability concerns. In fact, in 2014, just a year before the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced, NEC launched its brand message, “Orchestrating a brighter world.” That message was in perfect alignment with the SDGs that were to be announced by the UN. But it was more than just a branding exercise. In that decade, NEC was already taking initiatives that were in keeping with the spirit and goals of the SDGs.
The initiatives included: deploying the first scalable child fingerprint identification solution to promote vaccinations, matching the SDG ‘leave no one behind’; a hybrid energy storage system for off-grid mobile network operator that utilised solar panels in addition to diesel, in support of the SDGs ‘affordable and clean energy’, industry, innovation and infrastructure’, and climate action; an AI tomato farming innovation that increased yields while using less nitrogen fertilizers, which contributed to the SDGs ‘zero hunger, ‘responsible consumption and production’, and ‘climate action’.
Contributing to a sustainable society has been a part of the DNA of NEC. Considering that sustainability is a huge challenge that requires addressing issues in many varied areas, NEC’s activities have similarly been varied, exploring solutions ranging from issues that the disabled face, to ensuring biodiversity among aquatic animals to social entrepreneurship initiatives along with many others. Our history of addressing sustainability issues for the past four decades can be found at a community section of our website.*5
As such, NEC has a strong culture of volunteerism and CSR within the company. We are proud of our employees, many of whom are passionate exemplars for CSR.
One of them is Aloysius Foo, Strategy & Insights Executive from NEC Asia Pacific’s Management Office, who regularly organises CSR activities for NEC in Singapore.
“I get a great sense of fulfilment from seeing an event conclude successfully,” he said. He added: “The opportunity to interact with different organisations and beneficiaries has broadened my perspectives on societal issues in Singapore. It is also extremely rewarding to the organiser to witness the combined efforts of volunteers in helping to create a better and happier society and to bring smiles to the faces of our beneficiaries.”
Aloysius also explained how volunteering contributes to personal growth: “Employees can pick up various soft skills, one of it being effective communication. CSR allows employees to interact with people from all walks of life and this often requires active listening skills and the ability to communicate clearly without confusion. When organizing events, we also hone our decision-making skills in response to last minute changes. All these are skills that we can bring to our day-to-day job.”
Aloysius touched on the organisational benefits as well: “I have noticed when involved in CSR activities a very positive, ‘feel-good-vibe’ among participants, a sense of belonging, as well as pride in the organisation that they are representing. These things are important to the millennials and the gen Z, who strongly desire a sense of purpose in the work that they do. These two groups of employees are expected to form the bulk of workforce in the coming years.
Aloysius added: “I am proud to be part of a company that has spearheaded worthy causes for decades. Given NEC’s breadth of products and solutions, and the broad range of industries we serve, we are also in a position to inspire and influence other organisations to embrace CSR activities that contribute to a sustainable future.”
Ensuring an even progress across countries, societies, and demographics is a key theme that runs across all of the UN’s SDGs. Digitalisation is one trend that stands to enhance living and working and bring new conveniences.
However, we must also be cognisant of the need for digital progress to be inclusive. This risk is particularly cogent in Singapore, which faces a rapidly aging population, a considerable number of whom who will face age-related visual impairments. In view of this, NEC has entered into a private-public-people partnership with the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, to train volunteers to educate visually impaired seniors to use a smartphone.
The training included learning the accessibility features of smartphones, which can help visually impaired seniors perform tasks such as finding their way, listening to songs, or talking to their loved ones.
Dannie Lau, Regional Purchasing & Environment Manager at NEC Asia Pacific, who participated in the training and subsequently visited an old age home to impart her learnings, said: “Personally, I have found that volunteering improves my mental health and allows me to have a chance to add value to others, leading to purposeful living.
She added: “It is my sincere hope that this event will bring new aspirations to both volunteers and the elderly/ visually impaired, so that they, in turn, will become advocates, encouraging others to embrace technology and enrich their own and the lives of others.”
At the end of the day, NEC believes that by creating such opportunities as the above, employees will acquire a mindset for volunteerism and co-creation, enabling them as highly socially literate personnel, to sensitively grasp the true nature of the issues facing customers and society.