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Following conversations and feedback from industry contacts it seems as though FM Director magazine has quickly been accepted by our industry, much of which is due to the generous support given by many individuals and businesses to enable us to publish in-depth information on industry issues and topics.

One of the most notable of these is how many businesses – including both FM service providers and clients – are devoting considerable effort to further extend their social engagement activities.. With four previous issues of FM Director published since the magazine’s launch last autumn, the topic of social engagement has appeared in each one, which provides further evidence of its importance.

This began with the front cover interview within our first issue and has continued in every publication to date. While this is the first  feature dedicated to the subject, we expect it to be included as a central topic in future magazines and also within the various live events planned for later this year.

In addition to the importance of social engagement within the FM sector, it also forms an important element of the many other highly responsible initiatives increasingly seen throughout our industry. It is very much part of the overarching message that the industry is providing ever higher levels of support for and engagement with all staff members, clients, industry partners, charitable operations, local schools, sports clubs and many others.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to appreciate when creating social engagement processes and policies is the essential requirement of gaining higher levels of involvement from everyone within the business. This needs all members of the senior management team to ensure that it is cascaded down to each of their colleagues.

Social engagement needs to be a central theme within the company and a major area of concentration within the culture of each organisation. Without this overriding commitment from all staff members, there is a very real danger of it becoming a box-ticking exercise that will fail to achieve many of the objectives intended for inclusion, to the detriment of the company and all potential recipients.

Sodexo region chair UK and Ireland Sean Haley started the FM Director social engagement ball rolling with his front-page interview for the launch of the magazine last September. One of the many relevant comments included in the feature was his statement that this had to be a central theme from the launch of the business in question.

“We grow through delivering social outcomes, we improve the communities in which we live, work and serve. You can’t just add social value, you need to have established the right culture over many years,” said Mr Haley.

Confirming his company’s long-running focus on this area, he shared the fact that it had published its Social Value Pledge in 2014 and continued to work towards its three-year plan launched in 2021. It was considered equally important to publish the details of the targets successfully achieved and those it had failed to reach.

Social engagement is one of the three central elements within the ESG movement that is rapidly spreading throughout the FM sector. This has also been covered extensively within the first four FM Director publications and continues to be an important theme within a high number of conversations with industry contacts, which means it is set to be included in more features in the future.

Another interview in the first issue of the magazine was conducted with recently-appointed CBRE ESG director Sarah Shaw. Her promotion has emphasised the importance of the topic and highlighted the growing number of initiatives the business has supported.

Examples of these include charity cricket matches, the London to Paris bike ride and numerous other points of engagement with both local and national charities and associated organisations.

The October issue of FM Director featured Cloudfm founder Jeff Dewing in the front cover interview, during which he shared more highly relevant comments on the importance of embedding high levels of social engagement within businesses. His company had appointed its first head of ESG at the time of his interview, delivering added proof of its commitment.

Additional social engagement comments were provided by cleaning consultant Lynn Webster in her interview in the October issue, including her support of charitable bodies. Her work as chair of the Cleaning & Support Services Association (CSSA) Women’s Group has seen Ms Webster engaged in the provision of mentoring services for female cleaning industry professionals and also includes the raising of funds for the Safer Places charity.

Perhaps the best example of social engagement practices in the October issue was provided by Living Wage Foundation programme manager Sebastian Bachelier. In addition to explaining how the Real Living Wage (RLW) had helped thousands of people to raise themselves out of poverty, he further illustrated how this was continuing to deliver valuable support for companies assisting their staff and others to cope with high levels of inflation and other financial burdens.

The launch of the RLW Recognised Service Provider Group had seen an increasing number of service providers sign up, with the result that more companies and their clients were working towards aligning themselves with the drive to raise pay levels for staff.

With the publication of the November issue of FM Director, the social engagement baton was carried by Susan Elston in her front cover interview, particularly through her support of improved diversity and inclusion (D&I) processes within the businesses she has worked for. Following her successful FM career she has increased her voluntary work activities, in addition to her appointment as chair of the North Eastern Scotland Colleges (NESCol) organisation.

This has included working as a counsellor for the Childline charity and volunteering for local retirement homes in her local area. The COVID-19 pandemic additionally saw Ms Elston undertaking more voluntary work with her local vaccination centre.

While the examples listed above provide proof positive of the importance of social engagement, our interview with Q3 Services chief executive officer (CEO) Martyn Freeman left no room for doubting its importance. Among the many statements provided, his comment that social responsibility will be the main differentiator for businesses of all sizes has been the most direct endorsement to date of the benefits that this can provide.

“We have a responsibility to look after all our staff and clients,” Mr Freeman said. “Adopting more social values will help us to give back, which could see us donate a percentage of our profits to charity in future.”

While explaining that his company was continuing to explore all the options for increased social engagement, he additionally stated the importance of ensuring that the best opportunities were followed and that time was taken to ensure this was the case. An example of this can be seen in that the business has paid its staff the Living Wage for several years and is continuing to consider other means to support all colleagues in dealing with increasing prices and inflation.

A clear illustration of the benefits of responsible management of a cleaning services provider came from Cleanology CEO Dominic Ponniah in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of FM Director magazine. Social awareness has been an integral factor within his company throughout its existence and has been further extended in recent years.

One of the most notable examples of this is the company’s annual fundraising event for the Hygiene Bank, which raised £15,000 last year and is due to be held this autumn with the intention of building on this impressive achievement. While his company is another long-term supporter of the Living Wage Foundation, Mr Ponniah has additionally joined the leadership committee of its RSP group to raise its involvement yet further.

“We’ve all made a commitment to communicate the benefits [of the RLW] to everyone we know and spread the word. I speak to some companies who pay the Real Living Wage but haven’t signed up to it officially.

“It really is a badge of honour, and your clients will love that you do it. It’s really powerful and will help you find and retain more talent and we’re all telling people they need to sign up,” said Mr Ponniah.

Last month’s publication additionally included a case study of the partnership between London’s Tower 42 and DOC Cleaning and further examples of the increasing importance of social engagement. Close working between the two partners has resulted in paying all staff members the Real Living Wage and includes a much wider focus driven by social values.

These have proved important in attracting members of staff to return to the workplace following the Coronavirus pandemic, which is another important and obvious benefit to all areas of the FM sector.

All the examples above – along with many others published within every area of the FM Business Daily brand – combine to clearly confirm the essential importance of social engagement practices throughout our industry. There is a long list of beneficial outcomes already enjoyed by the businesses providing the best examples of this, which will increase in future as they continue to extend them.

While it is undoubtedly important for every business to operate on a profitable and sustainable basis to ensure its survival, the inclusion of a central focus on social engagement will add numerous positive supporting processes. It is another factor in the vital message that running companies by financial spreadsheets alone invariably leads to short-term thinking and knee-jerk reactions to the issues that every organisation faces at various stages of its development.

The adoption of social engagement does not make businesses immune to these issues, of course, but if it is applied correctly and combined with adhering to strict moral standards and positive culture, it can make a clear difference between success and failure by ensuring a long-term focus on delivering value within all operations.