Social Responsibility in the Workplace

By: Ann Ranson

A look at the definition of social responsibility and how to incorporate it in the workplace.

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Much is being written today about social responsibility—but what exactly is it? Literally defined, it means that all people and organizations have a responsibility to society. And while many people think that it is all about the environment and going green, I describe social responsibility as being a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

To understand social responsibility better, let's look at it this way. Your association may be used to measuring only the profit bottom line, but in truth you have three bottom lines, also known as the triple bottom line. This business practice recognizes the people bottom line, the planet bottom line, and the profit bottom line. Increasingly organizations are taking this holistic approach to their operations and reaping the benefits.

In my bottom line strategic planning system, each bottom line is divided into two dimensions, giving you a way of organizing your thinking and your strategies for maximum benefit. The people bottom line, stakeholders and culture, involves understanding and responding to the needs of your employees, clients, shareowners, vendors, and customers. The planet bottom line, legacy and community, speaks to planning for the future and your impact on the environment. Historically receiving the most attention, the profit bottom line, sales/marketing and products/services, is shifting to transparency and authenticity in your business relationships. 

As you can tell, a bottom line approach gives you a framework to build a socially responsible association. And, other than making you feel good, why is that important?

Because employees want social responsibility! Today there is a growing desire, even demand for more social responsibility in the workplace, especially from employees and customers. Studies are documenting that social responsibility is a recruitment and retention advantage, particularly among the younger generations. Workers reward socially responsible organizations with increased engagement, which leads to increased productivity and revenue.

If you're sold on integrating social responsibility into your workplace but are wondering where to begin, consider what tennis legend Arthur Ashe said: "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can." I think his advice is valuable as you work to implement the changes toward more social responsibility.

Start small and build from there:

  • Engage your employees by organizing a green team of employees who will volunteer their time to help you make this transition.
  • Initiate a policy that encourages transparency in all of your operations.
  • Reduce waste by having recycling bins, encouraging two-sided printing, and using CFL light bulbs.
  • These are just a few ideas on how you can help your association be more socially responsible. 

Ann Ranson is a sales and marketing coach and consultant who works with businesses and nonprofits to implement strategies that meet the market demand for social responsibility. For a free white paper on social responsibility, please email or visit Ann will be presenting a program "Understanding Why Social Responsibility is Vital to Your Associations Competitive Advantage" at ASAE & The Center's  Great Ideas Conference in March 2010.

Ann Ranson