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Garry Turner


Interpersonal Catalyst & International Product Manager

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Why sleepwalking through life is halting the rise of socially responsible workplaces


Many, if not all of us, within HR and people-related roles have come across the term corporate social responsibility (CSR). But from my personal experience, outside of role models such as Unilever and Patagonia, it has been difficult to visibly and physically appreciate how well, or not, an organisation does ‘give’ alongside generating profits.

I would assert that a socially responsible workplace is made up of socially responsible and accountable leaders, individuals and stakeholders who all grow with the macroeconomic environment a conscious consideration.

How conscious, really, are our organisations and therefore workplaces today?

An intentional, conscious balance by organisations to generate profits AND benefit society as a whole has often stopped, in my experience to date, at the taxes being paid. But while critical to the wider system and society, taxes alone are enough to serve the greater good as a socially responsible organisation.

At times I have observed CSR being a ‘tick-box’ exercise. Yes, visiting local schools or doing some volunteer work is helpful, yet a truly socially responsible workplace, one fit for the 21st century and beyond, can and should do so much more by design.

The status quo

This may sound challenging, but UK homelessness has increased significantly since the 08/09 financial crisis (> 30% over past 10 years), the six richest people in the UK have the equivalent accumulated wealth of the poorest 13m in the UK, and we are experiencing a ballooning in the distribution of food bank emergency supplies (up to 1.2m parcels from less than 50,000 in 2009). This tells us that much opportunity exists for organisations to do more.

Importantly, leaders and wider stakeholders also have much more opportunity to influence how their organisation’s profits are distributed to the benefit of wider environmental and economic systems.

We need to make money and we need to turn a profit, but HOW we do that and for WHO is changing – and rightly so.

Some reflective questions:

  • How socially responsible, honestly, outside of making profits, do you believe your organisation is today?  If you are not sure, why not be curious and ask the question internally?

  • Have you read your organisation’s CSR report before and what did you feel proud of and maybe frustrated by?  

The shift to genuinely socially responsible workplaces is under way… is yours ready?

Over the past few years two very significant global statements have been made with regards to this current shift to increased social responsibility: 

  1. 181 CEOs from the Business Roundtable in the US, which includes organisations such as Apple, Accenture andAmerican Airlines, have updated their definition of a corporation to, interestingly, one that is much more closely aligned to that of the above definition of social responsibility. To observe what humane, intentional connection-centred leadership (and therefore a socially responsible workplace) looks like,  take a look at this open letter from Barry Wehmiller’s CEO Bob Chapman.

  2. Larry Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, shared a similarly direct message in his 2019 statement, which included the request to focus on longer-term investments and on purpose, as well as profits.

This significant consciousness shift, in the workplace and globally, is happening right now. It is of great value to everybody in HR to be curious and courageous in conversation around this topic.

HR, with its holistic, pan-functional view of the organisation, has one of the biggest opportunities to influence and impact change towards more socially responsible workplaces.

What will help us transform to more sustainable, socially responsible workplaces?

What happens next remains to be seen, but I have experienced first-hand within my global network and at work, over the past two years, an exponential shift in conversations around heart-based leadership, connection, belonging, vulnerability and trust.

Technical skills remain important, but AS important are catalytic, humanistic skills such as those outlined above, especially as we increasingly augment technology.

The accidental focus on us, as individuals, versus the exponential potential that can be unleashed together in community, is an area to be deeply curious about within HR.

A socially responsible workplace must be, I believe, a deeply human, connected workplace comprising individuals and leaders at all levels who have a conscious awareness as to how they interface with all of their external and internal stakeholders.

They must do so transparently and, for sure, not with a myopic focus on just profits. Those days are gone if you wish to attract and retain your top people.

Please let me be clear. This is not a message of utopia. We need to make money and we need to turn a profit, but HOW we do that and for WHO is changing – and rightly so.

How conscious, really, are you personally today?

To have a truly socially responsible workplace, I believe that we, every single one of us, have a responsibility to act and contribute more consciously.

For example:

  • Who in your workplace, right now, is struggling with an excessive workload to the point that they look like they may burn out, yet nobody is offering to help them out, or even engage with them?
  • Who in your workplace is not only a full-time employee but also has caring responsibilities when they get home after work, yet nobody knows, or worse, considers this when reviewing their performance?
  • When colleagues put their recyclables in the general waste bin, do you lean in to recommend there may be another way?
  • How clear are you as to what your strengths are and where you may need help?  Do you feel comfortable being vulnerable to seek help?
  • Do you see things going on at work that you feel are unethical, yet you turn a blind eye? How do you feel when that happens?

Socially responsible movements

I have given keynote talks and spoken on podcasts during 2019 about my recent journey to ‘awakening from sleepwalking through life’.

Until we are first conscious within ourselves, within any role and at any level within an organisation, I believe that our workplaces will remain less socially responsible.

Human connection and belonging are key catalysts to moving us towards the kinds of workplaces that serve profit, people and planet simultaneously. Two movements leading the charge in this area are:

  1. BCorps or Benefit Corporations

  2. The Conscious Capitalism movement 

I strongly recommend that HR peers follow and engage with these two movements.

Multiplying impact through connecting on a deeply human level

It is easily and innocently done – to sleepwalk through life.

It is what we have been taught to do. To get our grades, to make money, buy a house, have kids and hopefully live long enough to spend the money we have been saving for in retirement.  

The accidental focus on us, as individuals, versus the exponential potential that can be unleashed together in community, is an area to be deeply curious about within HR.

That connected, inter-dependent ‘we’ is what a true socially responsible workplace looks like for me.

As always, please share your comments, challenges and reflections in the comments below as we would love to continue this conversation as we enter the final part of this three-part series around ‘diversity, inclusion and belonging.’

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Garry Turner

Interpersonal Catalyst & International Product Manager

Read more from Garry Turner
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