Winning in the Marketplace and Workplace by Engaging Employees in Sustainability

Engaged employees lead to better business outcomes. As companies look for ways to boost employee engagement, they are focusing on job purposing—the concept of linking an organization’s purpose and an individuals’ job to society contribution. And, job purposing increasingly includes sustainability-focused employee engagement. However, despite the rapid evolution and uptake of this practice, many companies still struggle to create meaningful sustainability-focused employee engagement programs and to measure the impact of those programs in ways that demonstrate their value and resonate with decision makers.

At the root of the measurement challenge is the frequent disconnect in how sustainability and human resources (HR) practitioners define and measure employee engagement. Sustainability professionals have used the term “employee engagement” to describe their ability to motivate employees around sustainability goals and further their sustainability programs. Most of the impact measures are anecdotal, or measure participation in terms of volunteer hours or dollars. HR professionals have traditionally defined employee engagement in terms of employees’ emotional commitment and discretionary effort, which is typically measured via an index approach using employees’ answers to survey questions such as whether an employee would recommend the company as a great place to work or how proud they are to work at the company.

To bridge this divide, NEEF and BuzzWord convened corporate thought leaders to assess best practices and create and pilot a survey to measure the impact of engaging employees in sustainability programs. The survey measured dimensions of employees’ sustainability experience and, using PwC’s employee engagement index as a guide, also measured traditional dimensions of employee engagement. These measures were used to create two indices—a sustainability engagement index and an employee engagement index—which can be compared to better understand their relationship. The concept of a sustainability index is novel and significant, as it allows comparison among companies and standard measures of employee engagement, as well as tracking of year-over-year performance.

The pilot survey, conducted in 2016, included a total of 400 respondents from Baxter, Duke Energy, Genentech, and Spectrum Brands. By correlating the sustainability and employee engagement indices for the individuals who participated, we were able to better understand the relationship between employee engagement in sustainability and more traditional aspects of employee engagement as measured by HR, and show which elements of sustainability drive employee engagement. Some highlights include:

  • Engaging employees in sustainability positively impacts employee engagement.
  • Engaging employees in sustainability positively impacts nearly all of the dimensions of traditional employee engagement such as alignment, pride, discretionary effort, and advocacy.
  • Job purposing matters! Employees are more engaged if they can incorporate sustainability practices into their job activities or personal lives.

Join NEEF and BuzzWord at New Metrics ’17 for a deeper dive into the pilot survey results and a discussion with experts from Genentech and PwC about different approaches and best practices in engaging employees in sustainability and measuring the impact of sustainability engagement. And, learn how your company can use the survey and participate in future work in this area.

Krista Badiane
Sustainability Consultant and Professor
September 14, 2017

Leah Haygood
Founder & President

Sara Espinoza
National Environmental Education Foundation
Managing Director, Research & Best Practices

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