Many companies now advertise their commitment to sustainability. In order to strengthen their employer brand and improving their ability to attract and retain talents, companies make known to the public the actions taken for a sustainable management of human resources. But which arguments companies use to promote their commitment to sustainability? And what policies and practices are included among the actions relating to the sustainable management of human resources?
Trying to give a first answer to these questions, and following the research by Ehnert et al. (2013), me and Dr. Mattia Martini from the University of Milano Bicocca, conducted a study on the texts of 20 corporate websites, belonging to multinational companies operating in Italy and in different economic sectors. The companies were selected from those which received the Top Employers Prize in 2016, an award for organizations which were able to reach high standards in terms of working conditions offered to the employees (see www.top-employers.com). We focused on the texts which were included in web pages relating to "corporate sustainability" and "Corporate Social Responsibility". Through the RapidMider software, we then carried out a quantitative analysis of the texts aimed at calculating the occurrences and the similarities between the sentences and the words used, and identifying clusters of similar terms and concepts related to the issues of sustainability and sustainable human resource management.
The analysis firstly show that, in relation to sustainability in the management of human resources, the objectives pursued by the company include: (1) integrating the principles of sustainability to develop business strategies and policies consistent, (2) attracting and retaining top talent, (3) creating trust-based relationships with employees, (4) promoting listening of and communication with all the employees, and (5) respecting their needs and expectations.
Some terms related to the human resources management seem to be more frequent in the corporate web pages that talk about corporate sustainability and CSR. These are for example, "freedom of thought", "employees wellbeing”, "training" "work-life balance", "diversity", "dynamic work environment", "listening and communicating", "value-added human resources", and "voluntary work".
Through a more accurate analysis, nine clusters of terms were founded, including words which relate to similar and recurring topics. Five of these clusters in particular, refer to sustainability in general, showing that, when presenting their commitment to sustainability, companies mainly focus on "objectives" (cluster 1), "impacts" (cluster 2), "quality and innovation "(cluster 3), “relations with stakeholders"(cluster 4) and" social responsibility "(cluster 5).Instead, four clusters are linked to sustainability in the management of human resources, suggesting that the actions traced to a sustainable human resources management relate to "employee welfare services" (cluster 6), "diversity management" (cluster 7), "human capital training and development” (cluster 8), and " security in the workplace "(cluster 9).
Although this is a first exploratory study, the analysis of the corporate websites has highlighted that the human resource management has fully entered into the corporate communication on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. In fact, we can now speak of sustainable human resource management (SHRM), to indicate all those actions aimed at integrating sustainability objectives in the organizations, through the design of HR management and development systems which are able to support the achievement of sustainable performances in the long-term. On the other hand, if "rhetoric" and "reality" do not always coincide, it becomes now important for companies to find a proper alignment between what they are communicating to their stakeholders and what they actually realized on the field. In the case of human resources, this becomes particularly important when businesses wish to establish a profitable and lasting relationship with the talented candidates and employees.
 Ehnert I., Harry W., Zink, K.J. (Eds.) (2013), Sustainability and Human Resource Management. Developing Sustainable Business Organizations, Springer.
Relevant tags: Sustainable human resource management, Sustainability, Sustainable lifestyles