The problem with HR’s ‘should-be’ attitude to sustainability

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A recent study has revealed HR executives want their teams to play a bigger role in corporate social responsibility but researchers are saying there’s a problem - our ‘should-be’ attitude to sustainability.

Do you think HR should be doing more?

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Effective Organizations, human resources departments tend to take a ‘want to be’ or ‘should-be’ stance towards CSR and sustainability activities but academics are arguing this attitude needs to change before we see an improvement.

The report indicates that although HR professionals are acutely aware of the importance of sustainability – a huge 82 per cent of senior HR executives agreed sustainability activities can improve profits – they just don’t think it’s their job to do anything about it.

Despite the majority of HR professionals agreeing that sustainability activities can have a positive impact on employee loyalty, shareholder value, recruitment and employee engagement, just 51 per cent said sustainability was an important focus of HR in their company.

Three per cent of those surveyed said HR has the primary responsibility over sustainability within their company and only one per cent said it should have the primary responsibility.

Naturally, HR cannot be held solely responsible for a company’s overall sustainability but with so many professionals expressing their support for sustainability and recognizing its value, HR should be embracing the challenge and accepting its important role in any organization’s combined effort.

So what is HR’s role?

“HR’s role should be to build sustainability into its own activities and processes so that it can play a major role in the structuring of a company’s sustainability processes, practices and strategies,” writes Edward Lawler and Susan Mohrman.

According to Lawler and Mohrman, companies that perform well with respect to sustainability and CSR can be distinguished from those that don’t by a range of organizational design differences. With high performers, CSR objectives are fully integrated into their business strategy and organizational design – sustainability is more than just an add-on or after-thought – it is fundamental to how the company operates. 

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