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Six Ways Smart CSR & Sustainability Managers Are Driving Employee Engagement

Gauri Sharma

By Gauri Sharma

Image source: The Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2014

Image source: The Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2014

Innovative CSR & sustainability managers are raising the bar of “traditional” corporate responsibility by leveraging it to solve pressing business problems, deriving business value while advancing the company’s sustainability performance. Employee engagement – which is vital to building a successful, future-facing company – is one such critical business challenge sustainability managers are learning to address. Good employee engagement strategies have been proven to lower attrition and absenteeism, and improve productivity, efficiency and work quality – creating an energy and reputation that attracts the best, innovative talent.

Now more than ever, it’s imperative to crack the challenge of disengaged employees. India will become the youngest country in the world by 2021, with 64% of its population in the working age group of 20-35, meaning that millennials will constitute the majority of a company’s workforce. Research shows millennials to be more socially conscious than any generation before, looking to work in companies that have a purpose beyond profit and where they can have meaningful impact.

Smart companies and sustainability managers are tapping into this trend by engaging their employees in their social and environmental purpose. It’s great to see how some companies are changing the game by crafting cutting-edge sustainability engagement programmes to make the business more responsible while creating a more engaged, productive and conscious workforce. Here are some of the best.

AT&T's Do One Thing portal has spurred employee participation in sustainability initiatives 

AT&T's Do One Thing portal has spurred employee participation in sustainability initiatives 

1. Dashboards – measure and amplify “doing good”

Innovative and easily-accessible dashboards are increasingly being used to spur and measure employee participation in sustainability initiatives.  AT&T has been at forefront of this with its voluntary, company-wide portal called Do One Thing (DOT) which encourages employees to commit to regular, measurable actions that positively impact their communities, themselves and the company. From small initiatives such as recycling to edgy initiatives like developing sustainable technologies – AT&T has enabled it all by bringing engaging dashboards for sustainability.

2. Gamification – make sustainability fun

Companies are intelligently applying game techniques to motivate employees to opt for more sustainable practices, fast-tracking their overall sustainability improvements. In 2014, Sony Electronics (SEL) created an online Green Workspace Certification to encourage its employees to adopt more sustainable practices and engage in Sony Group’s larger goal of achieving a zero environmental footprint by 2050. SEL essentially turned sustainability into a fun game with a live stream of projects, team rankings and progress tracking, and divided the certification into four levels: Seed, Leaf, Tree, and Forest.

3. Green appraisal – integrate performance and sustainability

By adding a sustainability criteria to performance evaluation, companies are incentivizing employees to become change makers and actively participate in their sustainability agenda. To achieve its target of 100% employee engagement in CSR & Sustainability by 2020, Campbell Soup Co. assesses every employee’s performance on the basis of contribution to the company’s CSR and sustainability practices and goals. It has also integrated sustainability metrics into its executive compensation calculation. Similarly, in 2008, Intel made a bold move by linking a portion of executive and employee compensation to the achievement of the company’s corporate responsibility metrics.

Etsy's Hack Day - discussion around how to increase women in leadership

Etsy's Hack Day - discussion around how to increase women in leadership

4. Hackathons – disrupt the sustainability status quo

Hackathons have proven to be a great tool to crack business challenges. Dynamic companies are cross-utilizing them in sustainability by rallying employees to hack and pitch cutting-edge ideas that add social and environmental value to the business. 3M’s Innovation Power Pitch for Sustainability called on its employees across the world to pitch innovative ideas around potential sustainable products. The winning idea was given a research grant bring this product to life. The ever-inspiring Etsy, organized a Hack Day – bringing together 150 team members who came up with 22 ideas ranging from increasing women in leadership roles to a programme that tracks the company’s carbon footprint.

Godrej's employees work collaboratively with NGO partners

Godrej's employees work collaboratively with NGO partners

5. Volunteering 2.0 – utilise expertise for good

Companies are crafting smart and more effective employee volunteering strategies that leverage their employees’ knowledge and skill set for good. As a part of Godrej’s volunteering program, its employees capacity-build NGOs and work collaboratively with them to create long-term sustainable models. Pfizer’s Global Health Fellows program enables its employees to work with NGOs in developing countries for up to 6 months, addressing healthcare challenges in under-served communities. Skills-based volunteering not only deepens employee engagement, but also develops leadership, soft skills and professional expertise.

TCS sending out a strong message to its employees

TCS sending out a strong message to its employees

6. Conscious consumption – inspire positive change

Through exciting internal sustainability campaigns and offerings, companies are inspiring positive changes in their employees’ lifestyles. During World Water Week in 2012, Levis’ held a Go Water<Less Challenge asking its employees around the world to wear the same unwashed pair of jeans the entire week. By encouraging employees and even consumers to reduce their environmental footprint by using less water, Levis’ created significant buzz and also brought attention to its Water<Less collection. In 2011 SAP developed TwoGo a cloud-based carpooling app for its employees to reduce its carbon footprint and costs. In 2013, this app was launched externally, enabling other companies to leverage the same benefits. Very recently, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), put up a message in their Bangalore office canteen, with an aim to cut down individual food shortage – “Take all you can eat, but eat all you can take”, tying into TCS’s overall waste reduction policy.

Progressive companies and sustainability managers around the world are aligning and integrating their CSR and sustainability vision with their employee engagement strategies. The result is that critical business challenges are being addressed as the business becomes more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. It’s becoming increasingly evident that commitment to sustainability and CSR is no longer nice-to-have, but actually a great core business strategy.

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Gauri Sharma is a Consultant at Do One Thing, a strategy and communications consultancy, driving responsible business in India.

This article was originally published on 25th May 2016 in The CSR Journal