The beginning of April at Renewable Choice marked the kick off of the first leg of our Commuter Challenge, an annual event that encourages employees to use alternative transportation and to voluntarily reduce their reliance on carbon-based fuels, especially during the summer months when ozone levels in our region can soar to dangerous levels.
There are multiple reasons we’ve embraced the Challenge—not the least of which is our desire to “walk our talk” as an organization—but perhaps the most important reason is the elusive, but increasingly critical, employee engagement.
Employee engagement is a business management term for an employee’s involvement in his or her work and commitment to the organization’s success. Unsurprisingly, positive employee engagement is strongly correlated with positive organizational performance. As noted in Wikipedia, employee engagement primarily refers to an employees’ emotional attachment to work, and can therefore be extremely difficult to measure and manage.
But what does a sustainable practice like encouraging alternative transportation have to do with employee engagement?
A variety of factors have been found to impact employee engagement, and in many cases these same factors play a role in corporate social responsibility and sustainability. For example:
- Employers can increase employee engagement by understanding and acting on behalf of their employees’ expectations and preferences. In a study published by Adecco in 2009, more than 50% of respondents reported their desire to work for a company with sustainability as one of its driving values. If sustainability isn’t one of your core values as an organization, you’re missing an important opportunity to engage with a significant portion of your workforce, not to mention attracting and retaining new talent.
- Employee engagement is also supported by the sense of importance a worker feels when performing his or her job. This can be affected by both the worker’s attitude and the loyalty they feel to their company. A 2010 study reported in the Ivey Business Journal found that an authentic culture of sustainability built employee loyalty among line workers and managers, increasing both commitment and pride. Moreover, a study published this week by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that sustainability initiatives improved both employee loyalty and morale.
- Opportunities to improve the organization and advance one’s career also improve employee engagement, and sustainability provides workers with the chance to do both. Sustainability initiatives can significantly impact the bottom line, while simultaneously giving employees the opportunity to work more creatively. Sustainable principles are similar to those found in lean manufacturing in that they encourage innovation and long-term strategic thinking.
So what are some ways you can begin to engage workers in sustainability, rather than just paying it—and them—lip service?
- Lead and communicate. Engaged employees expect communication and direction and your reward for both is better organizational performance. Develop your vision for your company’s sustainability or social responsibility strategy. Build your strategy from the ground up, ensuring that all workers have the opportunity to participate and communicate.
- Train your team. Without adequate role clarity and competency development, sustainability can feel like just “one more thing” your workers are expected to do…and they’ll resent it. Instead, invest in resources to get everyone on the same page so that your team knows what your talk is and how to walk it.
- Get your team involved. There’s nothing more demotivating for employees than initiatives that never get off the ground. Once you decide to embark on sustainability as part of your strategy, engage your employees right away. Solicit their participation, feedback and ideas. Begin to implement sustainability strategies that have immediate impact, such as a corporate recycling program, or a corporate Green Team championed by one of your staff members.
- Recognize and reward. As your strategy begins to pay off, be sure to let your stakeholders know, and work to tie incentives and other rewards to your sustainability objectives. Honor employees who develop innovative ways of working green, or who make significant contributions to waste reduction, and recognize behaviors that you wish to see repeated.
There are many ways to approach the adoption of sustainable business practices, but one thing is certain: your employees have a vested interest in the triple bottom line as they, and their children, stand to be some of the primary beneficiaries. And if you’re not sure how to get started, please contact our Professional Services group, as Renewable Choice offers sustainability strategy, employee engagement, and communication services that can support you—and your team—in all your green endeavors.
Amy Haddon is Director of Business Operations at Renewable Choice.