I read a fascinating opinion piece this week, written by CB Bhattacharya, director of the Center for Sustainable Business at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. He explains how leading companies are successfully boosting engagement through sustainability, which give employees a sense of larger purpose.
As we all know, employee engagement, is at an all-time low of 30%. Contrast this with the company Unilever. They have a workforce of 170,000+ that has an employee engagement score of 80%. How do they do it?
For one, Unilever implemented a sustainable business model that puts environmental and societal considerations front and center, along with growth and profits. This model taps into the higher sense of purpose that humans have, which many employees (especially Millennials) yearn for.
- Define the company’s long-term purpose. Why does the company do what it does? Leaders should ask this question and share the answers with employees. Thinking about the social purpose that a company serves enables employees to latch onto that higher purpose and use the company as a means to express their values, which in turn, creates meaning in and at work.
- Spell out the economic case for sustainability. Sustainable business is profitable business and it helps to share this knowledge with employees. In 2014, IBM implemented energy conservation projects at 341 locations globally, cutting usage to the tune of $37.4 million in savings, while simultaneously helping the environment.
- Make every employee a sustainability champion. Unilever has sustainability “ambassadors.” As a result, 76% of Unilever’s 170,000 employees feel their role at work enables them to contribute to delivering to the sustainability agenda, and 50% of new employees cite Unilever’s ethical and sustainability policies as the primary reason for wanting to join the company.
- Co-create sustainable practices with employees. Marks & Spencer has clothes-recycling boxes in its stores that provide income for the nonprofit Oxfam. The boxes were an employee’s idea. Once employees see the positive impact and economic returns on social and environmental investments, the ideas start to flow.
- Encourage healthy competition among employees. Connected to Care, an initiative launched by BASF, enables employees to submit ideas for corporate volunteer projects. In 2015, 500 project ideas were received and employees voted for their favorite projects. The top 150 ideas were funded.
- Make sustainability visible inside and outside the company. Develop indicators to track the progress of your sustainability agenda, which is shared via scorecards, dashboards and webcasts with employees. Also, celebrate success when goals are reached or awards won.
Every person wants his or her work life to have a higher purpose beyond making money. Engaging in a sustainable business model drives both positive change in the communities where we live and work, and employee engagement. A win-win.