Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Employee-Focused Corporate Social Responsibility in Practice: Insights from Managers in the New Zealand and Australian Financial Sector

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Employee-Focused Corporate Social Responsibility in Practice: Insights from Managers in the New Zealand and Australian Financial Sector

Article excerpt

Key Words: corporate social responsibility (CSR), employee-focused CSR, managers' opinions, financial sector and Global Financial Crisis (GFC)


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is no longer an optional extra. Global competition, demanding customers, and media pressures have refocused organisations on their wider social obligations. However, this increased focus on the importance of CSR theoretically has not brought with it a clear indication of what this actually means for organisations and how it is practically implemented. In addition, the role and inclusion of employees remains unclear and often segmented despite their significance being increasingly acknowledged both within organisations and as a crucial part of the CSR process.

This study aims to fill some of the empirical gaps in the predominantly normative CSR literature by researching how organisations define employee-focused CSR and, in particular, what employee-focused CSR-based activities the organisations participate in and promote. Twenty-eight managers from seven financial organisations across New Zealand and Australia completed a questionnaire to this end as part of a larger doctoral study. The respondents' definitions highlight a conceptual understanding of CSR and a focus on the organisation's relationship with a number of key stakeholders. By identifying the organisation's approach to CSR, a development process for the formulation and integration of an organisation's CSR policies and practices can be illustrated. The findings also suggest specific employeefocused CSR activities have developed with Human Resource Management activities dramatically increasing in focus and importance to the point of becoming embedded in some organisations.

This research, therefore, makes a timely contribution in providing some initial findings and empirical insights amongst financial organisations into the practical application and integration of the dynamic and elusive concept of CSR during the global financial crisis.


The role of organisations is changing. Customers are demanding increasingly personalised service, the marketplace is becoming increasingly global and competitive, and expectations of media, international bodies, and society at large have intensified dramatically. Organisations are, therefore, under great pressure to fulfil an increasingly broad range of stakeholder needs (Garavan & McGuire, 2010). While achieving profits has dominated corporate strategies in the past and remains vital to organisational success, organisations are now, through necessity, focusing on their broader social responsibilities as well.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is, therefore, taking a more prominent position on corporate agendas (Smith, 2003), and there is a growing global consensus that CSR not only remains a mainstream business concept (Werther & Chandler, 2006) but increasingly should be "at the heart of business" (Bevan, Isles, Emery & Hoskins, 2004: 35). However, despite an increased focus on its importance, there is still major disagreement as to what CSR actually means and, more specifically, how it is implemented (Garavan & McGuire, 2010).

Significant research has been conducted on the development of CSR (Freeman, 1984; Carroll, 1991; Blowfield & Murray, 2008; Bolton, Kim & O'Gorman, 2011). The research has sought to define CSR (Carroll, 1999; WBCSD, 1998; CEC, 2001; Decker, 2004; Werther & Chandler, 2006; Blowfield & Murray, 2008; Garavan & McGuire, 2010), and there has also been some research addressing CSR standards and what CSR should include of organisational activities (Vuontisjärvi, 2006). This standard setting has been promoted by several non-academic bodies (Bite, 2007; FTSE, 2007; GRI, 2011). However, little attention has been given to empirical investigations of what organisations think CSR means for them and what they are actually doing. In addition, while environmental and communitybased initiatives have dominated media and organisational attention (Pirsch, Gupta & Grau, 2007; Young & Thyil, 2009), employees have, for the most part, been neglected from the discourse. …

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