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by Aman Singh Das | February 18, 2011


"Employees don't stay with a company because of benefits. It is the long-term relationship building that attracts people to stay."

That's how Jeff Swartz, CEO of Timberland, responded to a question on whether the company's commitment to corporate social responsibility reflected in a lower turnover rate. Swartz was speaking at GreenBiz's State of Green Business forum in Washington D.C. earlier this week to a crowd of senior CSR and sustainability executives.

The objective of the conference: To highlight success stories, and offer a forum for open brainstorming of ideas, as well as crowd-sourcing their experiences to evaluate current trends and policies.

Swartz's statement, however, piqued my interest.

What Makes a Company a Preferred Employer?

Here at Vault, we spend a considerable amount of time discussing what role flexible benefits and workplace culture play in a jobseeker's ultimate decision. Vault's annual surveys—which cover a range of industries including law, consulting, finance, and accounting—consistently reflect the high priority job seekers place on benefits as part of the hiring package.

But is Swartz correct in his assertion that they're less important when it comes to ensuring our longevity with an organization?

While the relationship between employee engagement and length of service might be commonly understood in some quarters, it remains a debatable conversation for many.

And Swartz is coming from a radically different place in the universe of corporate America: Timberland is known for its emphasized policies on socially and environmentally sustainable consumption and production—it has been doing this for over three decades, beginning back when CSR or sustainability was unheard of as a distinct concept/ideology. In fact, through his blog, the third-generation CEO often talks about work culture, including a no-smoking ban he imposed last year on all employees.

[Back in June, 2010, I had questioned whether Swartz was crossing the line between personal and professional choice, and asked whether such a radical step should have included an incentivized plan to go along with it for the smokers to quit.
Today, I see his decision differently. I see this step simply as yet another strain of his commitment to corporate social responsibility, i.e., every decision or policy doesn’t need to be bracketed in "CSR" for it to have the same resonance, the same effect, just like every job title doesn’t need the words "corporate social responsibility" to be meaningful.]

Of course, Swartz was responding to an equally debatable question: Does a company's commitment to CSR ensure better turnover rates and higher employee productivity?

He went on to add that just because Timberland was a leader in this area, it didn’t mean their employee retention was "marginally better" than other companies because of this commitment. Instead, he said, it was the company's culture to promote innovation, engagement and employee input that factored much higher in an employee's decision to leave/stay.

"And that takes long term relationship building," he added.

Using Social Media for Consumer Activism

Swartz also discussed the power of social media and consumer activism, especially with an increasing population of millennials in the active workforce. Calling information overload "good," he said, "It allows them to scale all this information to size. I still believe that people are their brothers' keepers."

He also believes that social networking will eventually result in pushing more people to connect face to face as aligning values becomes more and more important in the overcrowded world of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Filed Under: CSR
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