Companies are attempting to motivate employees to do the “right,” or sustainable, thing when at work by increasing environmental and sustainability education and awareness and it is paying off with increased profits. Complementing education with incentives to engage a diverse workforce with varying levels of engagement and social consciousness motivates employees to take action.
Sustainability initiatives within large companies can increase profits by 38 percent, according to 2010 study by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). [See The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Education.] And in order to have a successful sustainability initiative, employees must be involved and engaged. But how do you do this? How do you engage employees in something that, for most, is not part of their job function? And, worse, how do you engage the 71 percent of employees that a Gallup study shows are not actively engaged?
Many are turning to environmental education to do just the trick. Companies are attempting to motivate employees to do the “right,” or sustainable, thing when at work by increasing environmental and sustainability education and awareness. Take Johnson & Johnson, for example. The pharmaceutical tycoon with nearly 120,000 employees worldwide has created environmental literacy programs to change the employees’ viewpoint or feelings toward the environmental with hopes that this knowledge will translate to action within the workplace. In fact, 92 percent of its facilities implemented a literacy campaign in 2007, according to the company’s website. Johnson & Johnson does not formally track the results of these efforts, other than receiving anecdotal feedback, but claims “great success among employees.” The program is centered around discussing “successes and progress and going after their hearts a bit,” as reported to NEEF.
But what happens when trying to change employees’ opinions and feelings toward the environment does not work? When grasping at heart strings leaves you empty handed? When education and awareness does not influence them to walk out the front door a wasteful worker one day and return a staunch environmental steward the next?
Though environmental and sustainability education is an integral piece to fulfilling the corporate social responsibility puzzle, it seems it may not be enough. The truth is some employees might feel morally compelled to act, but most will not. There are two main drivers for sustainable action: The first is moral obligation, and on the flip side, the second is a self-serving—or “what’s in it for me”—reasoning. One best practice that has been shown effective is to complement education with incentives to engage a diverse workforce with varying levels of engagement and social consciousness.
And surprisingly enough, employees may just be hoping for such a program. A series of Towers Watkins studies on employee engagement and incentives revealed what drives employee engagement and what drives employees away. One such study found 65 percent of employees were seeking more frequent communication about reward and benefit programs.
What’s more, most companies were said to find such rewarding practices advantageous, but three specific types of organizations were shown to reap the greatest performance benefits:
• Those with weak employee performance
• Those undergoing cultural change (merger or acquisition, layoffs)
• Those with a focus on people, in general
Considering human capital goes hand-in-hand with companies looking to become more sustainable, as they will need to address PEOPLE, planet and profits. It could be said then that sustainable-minded companies will have some of the greatest success implementing an incentive plan for employee engagement.
An example of such a company is organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farms. From day one, the company has taken commendable steps to include the planet in their business plan. But in 2008, they knew that they needed to do more to decrease energy consumption in their facilities. The company needed to reward their employees for engagement in sustainable practices. The incentive plan was simple: The amount of money saved from decreased usage was tied directly to paycheck bonuses. And the proof is in the pudding, or in Stonyfield’s case, yogurt: They decreased their usage by more than 22 percent that year, as reported to NEEF.
Prior to the employee engagement incentive plan, the company had found that 10 percent of its employees were managing 95 percent of their environmental impact. The incentive plan seemed to pull in the rest of the workforce. It just goes to show that even the most sustainable companies can find success with incentives: engaging some by pulling heart strings and engaging others by answering “what’s in it for me?”
© 2010, Mary Modney. All rights reserved. Do not republish.