Why housing’s new commercialism is good for ‘ethical careers’

By David Blower, Stonewater Executive Director of Corporate Services

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Should I stay or should I go? It’s an ethical dilemma which has been causing plenty of soul-searching among housing association professionals. Since the Government’s 1% rent cuts in 2015, there’s been a growing uneasiness among the ranks. Clearly, many who joined-up for an ‘ethical career’ in the sector, are finding it difficult to balance the pressures of a commercial operating environment with social housing’s traditional ethos.

But is this really an ethical dilemma or an opportunity to enthuse, excite and re-engage our workforce? Halting a brain drain of our best and brightest starts by changing their perceptions and ‘mindset’ of what being profitable and commercially-driven really means for our business. Indeed, the more commercially focused we are, the more money and value we create for our customers in the form of high-quality housing and support services which enable them to live in a safe, comfortable and secure environment.

So, let’s stop feeling guilty about being ‘profit motivated’ and take pride in our new commercial focus. It’s not that we’ve changed our raison d'être, only the route to achieving it. Unlike business organisations, our profits don’t line the pockets of shareholders and we don’t struggle to demonstrate our corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s what we do, every day.

By demonstrating that being more business-like brings bigger benefits to customers; and by keeping up with the times in terms of our organisational professionalism and application of modern technologies, housing associations can strike a new balance between social purpose and commercial need in a way which re-invigorates staff.

A new ‘commethical’ ethos

We should also be encouraging this new ‘commethical’ ethos by creating opportunities which enable our people to add more social value through entrepreneurial schemes which sell the

benefits of commercial approaches and allow them to give back to their customers and communities.

We’ve recently run a fundraising campaign where our staff were given £5 and challenged to increase the value either in cash or social value. They could donate their proceeds to support our arms-length grant-giving charity the Longleigh Foundation, which Stonewater match-funded, or to their own charity.

The campaign was a big success with many staff using their money to buy items which they could sell at a profit, raising thousands of pounds for Longleigh projects. Not only did the campaign boost morale across the business but it also helped people to appreciate the ‘ethical’ benefits of commercial behaviour and how it can be a great ‘enabler’ for creating social value.