PwC: 10 tips to bolster employee engagement

We know that employee engagement plays a key role in the success of both CSR programs and company-wide outcomes. After all, staff members who feel valued and productive have higher retention rates, increased productivity and greater motivation to give back to their colleagues, employer, community and the planet.

But is it possible to measure the value of employee engagement? How can corporations quantify their ROI?

PwC has published a report (PDF) addressing these questions and others. The report includes research done by Shannon Schuyler (principal and corporate responsibility leader for the company), Jeff Senne (corporate responsibility operations leader) and their colleagues. It also describes the three-step "Connect-Embed-Improve" plan that PwC has used to promote employee engagement.

PwC found that the value of its campaign to improve the employee retention ROI of corporate responsibility was $165 million. This has driven a 5 percent higher retention rate among employees who participated in the company's CSR programs.

I was intrigued to hear Schuyler speak about these findings at GreenBiz Forum 2014 in Phoenix, Ariz. As she said at the forum, employee engagement has long been a "nebulous" concept best characterized by anecdotes and stories. "Nothing was tangible, and it was really hard to go into your C-suite and say this is something that's valuable. … It feels good to do good things, but to really be able to put numbers around it brings this whole area to a different level."

Impressed by the company's success in measuring ROI, I reached out to Senne to help create this list of 10 ways to value and improve employee engagement based on PwC's journey.

1. Quantify employee participation in CSR activities

As a basis for comparison, the team categorized employees into three groups based on their involvement level with CSR activities at PwC: no involvement in CSR, participation in one activity, and engagement (defined as participating a number of times).

2. Calculate tangible figures  

By keeping track of things such as hours spent or dollars donated, you can identify which activities are high motivators, and which are not. 

3. Measure impact

Impact can include the number of students or educators reached, the impact on an NGO's mission and deliverables. It is crucial to measure impact beyond just dollars and cents.

4. Correlate with staff retention

The PwC report cites a 2010 study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), which found that employees with the highest levels of commitment to an organization were 87 percent less likely to resign. At the forum, Schuyler said that CR lets employees "realize it's not just about them, but that they can take their skills and knowledge and interest, leverage the firm, and then go out and do it. … People want to stay because then they see the other value that they have."

5. Correlate with improved ratings

Years ago, the highest performers were not the most active in CR programs. But after further engaging staff to better understand where they were finding value in CR, PwC discovered a correlation between engagement and higher employee ratings. In her forum talk, Scuyler said it was important for these highest performers "to realize and figure out how to balance utilization [of work hours unrelated to CR] with spending time during the work day engaged in something around CR."

6. Correlate with productivity

CSR activities that engage employees help them to learn new skills and sharpen existing ones. This can lead to more meaningful, positive and productive lives, thereby increasing their productivity at work as well. "People want to have a purpose," Schuyler said at the forum. "They want to figure out 'What does my job mean?' The 2010 study by CEB showed 57 percent greater effort among the employees who were most committed to their organization."

7. Correlate with client satisfaction

Improving employee productivity and performance also can improve customer satisfaction, allowing for a positive feedback loop that reinforces itself. "People are performing at a higher level when they're more engaged at the organization," Schuyler said. "They actually provide better service to our clients, which leads to more loyalty from our clients, which leads to more satisfaction from our people. So it really becomes this loop."

8. Analyze nuances of employee roles

By offering opportunities that better meet the needs of the staff, you can improve the use of employees' unique talents and skills in CSR programs, thereby promoting engagement. One-size-fits-all approaches should be avoided, but authentic leverage of core competencies can be a critical way to connect staff to a larger sense of mission. 

9. Examine generational differences (and similarities)

PwC has found significant correlations in the need for personal purpose among milennials and baby boomers. For example, a project teaching financial literacy in Belize has had great success among both the newest employees and the retirees of the company. While there are some differences between generations that are worth noting, many similarities exist as well. And these can help build a connection among employees.

10. Track employee satisfaction and feedback

Schuyler said that employees "see what the company can do, but there's so much more that they can do when they're actually involved. … They want to make sure that their fingerprints are part of it and that they're not just being told, 'This is what you need to do.' They want to be a part of those decisions." Giving employees the opportunity to provide input helps them to feel more valued and engages them at a deeper level.

Watch Shannon Schuyler discuss more insights and tips on employee engagement at GreenBiz Forum 2014 below:

Colored pencils photo by Andrey_Kuzmin via Shutterstock