The benefits of corporate philanthropy, a key element of corporate social responsibility or CSR, are well known. Recent studies have even demonstrated a correlation between organisational philanthropy and higher levels of employee engagement, leading to a positive culture and subsequent staff retention. However, inversely, the correlation between individual employees and a philanthropic bent contributing to a better corporate environment has never been explored. The fact that members of a large workforce with a specific quality can collectively infuse the same into the company’s culture and values can scarcely be denied. So why should altruism be an exception?
What philanthropic individuals are like
Simply stated, philanthropy refers to the act of expending time, resources, money and talent towards a cause for the betterment of others. Even apparently simple tasks such as volunteering to tutor underprivileged students, cooking or serving at a community kitchen, and giving away old belongings can be great acts of philanthropy, as long as they are guided by an innate desire to build a more equitable world.
Speaking to HR Katha, Jacob Jacob, group CHRO, Malabar Group underlined the importance of consistency in generosity. “The depth of philanthropic desire can be gauged by the degree of passion people feel towards the cause they support, and how much time, effort, or resource they spend on it. Most of all, the continuity of efforts matters. Charitable acts that are a one-off affair, happening on a whim, do not indicate a philanthropic personality,” he points out.
“Philanthropy on the part of employees should not take centre stage or come in the way of the organisation’s progress”
C. Jayakumar, CHRO, Larsen & Toubro
Identifying the philanthropic ones
Since philanthropic individuals are driven by their intrinsic nature rather than vested interests, it isn’t unusual to find such individuals unobtrusively carrying out acts of philanthropy. However, while shunning a desire for recognition is a virtue, how does one identify such individuals, particularly in large corporations?
According to Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo India, it is fairly easy to identify such persons within an organisation. “A philanthropic nature will reveal itself during the interview itself when candidates are asked what their favourite pastime or passion is, or whether they have ever done anything to support the larger community”.
There are several indicators that set such people apart. Their nature can be gauged by their answers, or their body language. They may even have a spark in their eyes or passion in their voice while speaking about the cause they advocate.
Sharma further opines that it is even easier to identify such employees once they join. “Whenever there is a CSR initiative, these individuals are the first to step forward and participate. The fact that they show willingness for such tasks, irrespective of any remuneration, recognition, or extra benefit isn’t lost on anyone”.
Philanthropic employees as contributors to company culture
Generally speaking, people guided by ethical norms, which encompass generosity, also tend to display qualities of honesty, integrity and respect for others. Research has corroborated that people who innately recognise other people’s needs and aspirations contribute to social stability. However, can an organisation be regarded as a microcosm of society that benefits as a result of such employees?
“Philanthropic employees infuse positive thinking into the workplace, therefore acting as catalysts to enabling a better culture in the organisation. A large set of such individuals can actually help organisations make more ethical choices, driving them towards uplifting society,” observes Jacob Jacob. “Such employees help inculcate a sense of belonging to the organisation. Their philanthropic ideology may even motivate the company to look at areas where it can work for the welfare of employees”, says Jacob.
“The depth of philanthropic desire can be gauged by the degree of passion people feel towards the cause they support, and how much time, effort, or resource they spend on it. Most of all, the continuity of efforts matters. Charitable acts that are a one-off affair, happening on a whim, do not indicate a philanthropic personality”
Jacob Jacob, group CHRO, Malabar Group
Large corporations themselves undertake CSR and other social welfare initiatives, and such employees further help foster and grow this spirit, according to Jacob.
“Philanthropy, in thought and action, brings humility, a broader outlook, and a sense of satisfaction to the individual. It helps contribute to a culture of openness, trust, care and collaboration,” says C. Jayakumar, CHRO, Larsen & Toubro.
He informs how they put all their trainees through two days of CSR work to gain a deeper understanding of the ethics.
Carrying forward a similar line of thought, Sharma believes that generally speaking, a significant number of employees, who are internally motivated to make a difference, adopt a similar approach or mindset towards the organisation as well. Consequently, “their actions are prompted by a desire to support other employees and a strong will to contribute to the larger purpose of the organisation. From that point of view, they certainly help shape the culture of an organization,” asserts Sharma.
There are drawbacks too!
Notwithstanding the unquestionable merits of having philanthropic employees, drawbacks – albeit few – do exist.
“Philanthropy on the part of employees should not take centre stage or come in the way of the organisation’s progress” cautions Jayakumar. “While time, effort and resources should be allotted to philanthropic causes, it should not begin to overshadow other priorities. In other words, the right equilibrium must be maintained,” he explains.
“A philanthropic nature will reveal itself during the interview itself when candidates are asked what their favourite pastime or passion is, or whether they have ever done anything to support the larger community”
Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo India
Amit Sharma points out yet another important drawback. “Vociferous advocacy of any cause can engender some rigidity,” warns Sharma. Occasionally, people have overly strong beliefs about certain things. Sharma cites an example of a friend who strongly supports the cause of environmental sustainability. When he was asked to conduct an event at his organisation, he refused to use paper or plastic tableware. He was uncompromising in his stance, insisting that the organisation use steel or other reusable stuff. This sort of fanaticism can become a drawback. “Even passion must be tempered with a degree of flexibility and a sense of what can work well,” observes Sharma.
And that pretty much sums it up. While employees who are practitioners of philanthropy may be great contributors to the culture of a corporation, even this virtue – like any other – should not be carried to an extreme degree.