Corporate Social Responsibility: Putting the Focus on Employees

When Chris Bowler, a co-owner of Daytona Beverages, and his partners saw an opportunity to buy a line of craft beers from a rival distributor in Orlando, they ran it by their workforce to see what they thought.

After two months of consideration, the vote was to go ahead with the acquisition, expanding the Daytona Beach company’s portfolio with new brands like Crooked Can, Founders and Funky Buddha.

This may seem an unusual way to come to a decision for a seven-figure deal: ask the employees.

But it made total sense to Bowler. Instead of imposing additional work on the staff, which could have brought friction, they incorporated them into making the decision so that when the deal was done, they were excited about the prospects, he said.

The payoff, he added, has been twice the sales growth rate than had been expected.

“If people commit beforehand, they will always do a better job,” Bowler said. “If you lay out the path to success at the ground level in advance, the extra hours or the additional work that will be required, it is much more effective than saying, ‘Here’s what we’ve got for you, I need you to work twice as hard.’”

More companies are taking steps to improve the employee experience across Volusia County, part of a wider trend to do social good, whether by reducing carbon emissions, helping the community or promoting diversity and gender equality at the workplace.

A growing body of research shows that when companies turn their focus from short-term margins to investing in environmental, social and governance issues, they not only do good for society but also improve their financial performance. Boston Consulting Group, a management consultancy, has found that companies that do well in addressing societal problems have higher margins and valuations.

Daryl Brewster, CEO of the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) in New York, a CEO-led coalition that promotes corporate responsibility, said in a recent blog post that employee programs have gained importance as the national unemployment rate has dropped below 4% from 10% in 2009-10, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“If a company wants to attract and retain the best talent, it must put a focus on their needs,” Brewster said.

“Companies are doubling down on support and protection for employees in ways such as education, nonprofit fellowships, healthcare, pro bono sabbaticals, and more,” he wrote. Some like Google, the California-based technology giant, are taking it further, he added, by providing employees with the tools and support “to make a difference in the world.”

At Daytona Beverages, Bowler said a key to building a better workplace is to improve its culture by making everybody feel included.

“You can’t say, ‘Hey, let’s all act like owners,’ if not everybody is involved in the nuts and bolts,” he said.

His company pays workers a profit dividend, which shows exactly what the distributor is making financially and drives them to help improve the results. Employee-led teams also handle issues from healthcare to safety, and Bowler has been encouraging them to do more.

“We really try to build a foundation from the ground up, not a top-down foundation, and let people tell us how to run the business, and not us tell them how to run it,” he said. “We run this like a family corporation. It is an open door, but we have very good policies and procedures that everyone feels comfortable following.”

The teams have made decisions to save the employees money. For example, they agreed to switch from a standard health insurance package to a self-insurance plan that is 60% covered by the company, 40% by the employee.

Bowler said investing in employee welfare is wise. “Ultimately, it is the people who make this a special business and our job as managers is to keep this culture going.” One way, he said, is to show up to work every day. “If you are willing to do everything that everybody else is doing, the company will be a lot more successful.”

Foundation Risk Partners, an insurance brokerage in Daytona Beach, has put employee wellbeing at the top of its agenda from the day it launched in 2017. Its headquarters have good lighting and plenty of sunlight. Employees can exercise or do yoga in recreational areas, or play foosball or ping pong.

This costs money, of course, but Charlie Lydecker, the president and CEO, said it gives the employees, or team members as he calls them, a better work-life balance and keeps them happy on the job, which is important for retention.

“We know that our team members are highly skilled and can work anywhere they want to, and so why would they want to work with us?,” Lydecker said. “We have to think about that every day to make sure we are not taking advantage of somebody or we’re not overly or singularly focused on bottom-line initiatives. We really need to be thinking in a holistic way how to make sure what is good for our company is good for our team members as well. We have to be mindful of the fact that we are lucky to have them working with us.”

When it comes to creating a workplace where employees feel good, there are challenges because of the diversity of a workforce. A college graduate may be big on foosball, but older employees may not be.

“We have been mindful of not trying to appeal to one generation over another, but to appeal across to board to all of our team members,” Lydecker said.

To achieve this, he has found that hosting a Thanksgiving lunch or doing field trips tend to work well with all ages.

The efforts also translate to better returns, he added. “I have never experienced anything negative from a business standpoint of trying to conduct yourself and provide leadership that is focused on doing the right thing for your team members,” he said. “What is good for the team members is good for the company.”

To achieve cohesion in the workforce, Lydecker said mutual respect is crucial. He said he often speaks to the staff about how to be respectful, and he has been using as a guide “The No Asshole” Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, a book by Stanford University professor Robert Sutton.

Basically, the book argues that a constructive workplace is built around mutual respect, and it recommends that workers check their egos at the door so an environment of open communication and collaboration can be created where everybody’s opinion matters.

On the contrary, if a top-down approach is used, discussion on issues is limited, exposing the company to the risk of “one day having a really unhealthy environment” that can reduce productivity and sales, Lydecker said.

“We don’t want a resolution that is difficult to languish. We need to address it and get on it really quickly, and the best way to do that is for more people to be informed,” including the management, he added. “The best way to do that is for people to feel good about what they are doing. It is not an environment where we point fingers. We don’t do that. We just solve issues and move forward.”

At Ghyabi Consulting & Management, an Ormond Beach civil engineering and transportation planning firm, Maryam Ghyabi, the CEO and president, said she believes that for the workplace to be attractive, management must be an example to the rest of the workforce.

“I really believe that if I live by what I preach, then it will be contagious,” she said.

Ghyabi has four guiding principles for herself and her staff: integrity, entrepreneurial, civic-minded and uniqueness.

“In everything you do, you are mindful of your surroundings, whether it is the community you live in or your office or your colleagues,” she said. “When you do this, it means you will help others.”

In her case, she spent three years helping to raise funds to rebuild the I-4 St. Johns River Bridge in 2004, making it safer for motorists. This is an example of how she expects her employees to live: by doing things that are good for the community, or creating what she calls shared value. But what about profits and the time it takes away from the job?

Community projects may be a distraction, she said, but they are energizing. “You feel so good about it that it makes you more efficient,” she said. “You become more efficient because you become happier with yourself. I don’t think we are here just to take care of ourselves and only ourselves. When you give, donate or use your engineering it makes you feel connected to people.”

If the corporate culture is to do social good, employees want to work even harder at their jobs, Ghyabi added. The key, she added, is to do as you want others to do. “The leadership has to live it and make an example of it and talk about it and be engaged in it,” she said. “When you take on projects, the rest of the corporation can become cheerleaders and can support and help you. That is important.”