Corporate social responsibility: A rewarding trip to Africa

Spring Group combined staff reward with corporate social responsibility, and found that the real reward came from the chance to help the less fortunate.

The business

Spring Group is one of the UK’s largest staffing specialists, working in permanent and contract IT and telecoms recruitment. A workforce of 1,000 supports more than 9,000 contractors or temporary staff placements every year and makes a further 4,000 permanent placements. The company also offers workforce management solutions and recruitment process outsourcing.

The challenge

In 2008, as part of its incentive programme, Spring rewarded its highest achievers with a trip to Dubai where they were treated to five-star accommodation and a range of exciting experiences and activities. Participants were either successful sales-people or individuals from the company’s support services, identified for their outstanding contribution over the last year.

While the Dubai trip was undoubtedly a success, it was felt to be a little too self-indulgent, and left attendees uncomfortable with the clearly divided society in which they found themselves. When the time came to organise the 2009 incentive programme, the company decided to add a corporate social responsibility (CSR) element, in the hope that this would give participants a more balanced experience.

Spring picked South Africa as the 2009 destination. Inspired by the work of its UK CSR charity partner, Action for Children, the company worked with incentive travel and conference provider First Event to create the ideal experience.

The solution

Alongside the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Spring’s 2009 reward team was given the chance to work on a CSR project in a hands-on environment. On 13 March, Red Nose Day, the 45-strong team was taken to the Alpine Primary School, Beacon Valley in Western Cape.

On arrival, the group split into three teams led by chief executive Peter Searle and managing directors Neil Jones and Aidan Anglin. Together they built a ‘jungle gym’ – a series of rugged rope swings, platforms and climbing frames – in the school’s playground. Preparatory work had been carried out by a local contractor to ensure the structures were secure in the ground and a health and safety worker was on hand to ensure the team created a safe play environment.

In addition, the team brought books, pens and paper to give to the school, and Spring created a £2,000 bursary and donated an engraved cup to be awarded annually to the highest achieving final year student.

The outcome

The people from Spring could not fail to be moved by the time they spent with the children and staff at the school. Realising what they were achieving with so little, and how much they valued Spring’s visit certainly gave the trip a new perspective.

Giving staff the opportunity to give something back rather than simply be rewarded appears to have strengthened this part of the company’s incentive programme.

“When we came back from this trip we talked about the events to encourage other people to want to go,” says Anglin.

“All anyone wanted to know about was the school.”

While describing some training exercises as ‘sheep-dipping’ – you do it once and it has no lasting effect – Anglin says the story of Alpine Primary School has become part of the company culture at Spring. It has inspired employees to want to go on the trip next year and to find other opportunities to contribute to both that school and to local communities in the UK.

“We want to embed this kind of event in our culture,” explains Anglin.

“Working in a local situation such as this makes you realise you can make a real difference to people’s lives.”

If I could do it again…

The scheduling of this particular event among the other straightforward reward activities on the trip proved problematic. While introducing a much-needed element of perspective and the opportunity to ‘give back’ as well as receive, it did place some of the other events under a shadow, making them more difficult to enjoy.

“Next time we will do this at the end,” says managing director Aidan Anglin.

“When we left the school the mood in the coach was very quiet and contemplative – and it was neither of those things at any other time during the trip. Sweeping everyone off somewhere extravagant left a sour taste in the mouth.”

Anglin also says that next time, the company will ensure there is a clear follow-up process to the day’s activities, to show how individuals can stay involved with the project.

However, he is wary of offering any more information beforehand, and says: “I suspect that the impact is greater if people are not mentally prepared. If anything I would play down any expectations to help create a bigger impact.”

Employee perspective

Jeremy Snell, sales trainer at Spring, says: “We weren’t sure what to expect from this day. The idea of carrying out physical labour in such heat doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but in the end it was an excellent experience.”

Snell has children of his own so felt real empathy for the kids in Alpine Primary School, but he was impressed by how deeply the entire team was affected by the day.

“The average age of our consultants is mid-twenties, and even those without kids were struck by how grateful these children were,” he says.

“The day after [visiting the school] we went on safari and the next day we were cage diving with sharks, but none of it was as moving or as touching as working on that school.”

Snell discussed the Alpine Primary School project with the HR director and they are now trying to identify similar local projects that the company might be able to get involved in to offer similar experiences to Spring’s employees.

Guide to implementing change… in 4 steps

  1. Find a project where your team can make a tangible impact.
  2. Partner with a company who can deliver a good project in a place where it matters, using the talents and skills of your employees.
  3. Integrate the project carefully with other activities and determine up front how to present your project to the participants.
  4. Give plenty of opportunity for participants to share and talk about their experiences – this enables them to appreciate and process the event, while helping spread excitement about CSR activities among other employees.

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