Can companies measure employee engagement?
As sustainability executives, we think there must be a positive correlation between investing in communications and engaging employees on sustainability and corporate responsibility, and employees’ overall job satisfaction. But there’s been little concrete data collected to make the business case.
A new report by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) presents a novel way to measure the impact of sustainability efforts on employee engagement, and the data are encouraging.
Winning in the Marketplace and Workplace: Activating the Workplace by Engaging Employees in Sustainability follows in the tradition of previous NEEF reports on employee engagement best practices. The difference this time is statistically significant data from four companies to illustrate the impact of a sustainability program on employee engagement. (Full disclosure: GreenBiz has conducted previous research with NEEF and I personally have participated in discussions that informed the most recent report.)
Back in 2014, GreenBiz worked with NEEF and PwC to research the state of the art in employee engagement. One observation in that report is that when it comes to working with the human resources group at a company, there can be significant differences in the use of language. "Employee engagement" is a term sustainability professionals use frequently to describe their attempts to motivate a company’s employees and further a sustainability or CSR program. But HR executives already have a definition for the term and a way to measure it.
Organizations such as Great Place to Work and Gallup use an index approach based upon employees’ answers to survey questions. Great Place to Work provides benchmarking certification that feeds into annual lists such as Fortune magazines’ 100 Best Companies to Work For annual list. Gallup also conducts benchmarking for companies, most famously with a 12-question survey that asks if employees are recognized for doing good work, have a best friend at work and whether they feel their opinion counts, among other questions.
The recent work by NEEF resulted in two pilot-test surveys that seek to identify the top drivers of engagement: one to measure the traditional dimensions of employee engagement typically measured by the HR department; and the other to measure the dimensions of employees’ sustainability engagement. These measures were used to create two indices — a sustainability engagement index (SEI) and an employee engagement index (EEI) — which can be compared to better understand their relationship.
A call for job purposing?
Spoiler alert: There is a positive relationship between sustainability engagement and employee engagement. To uncover this result, NEEF conducted surveys of more than 400 employees who had participated in a company sustainability activity from Baxter, Duke Energy, Genentech and Spectrum Brands. As the researchers note, that means the results do not necessarily reflect the general employee population. It is not possible to conclude whether the respondents participated in sustainability programs because they were engaged employees or the sustainability programs enhanced their engagement. The key survey result is that it is possible to identify which elements of sustainability engagement drive employee engagement.
One significant finding of the research is a positive relationship between employee engagement and employees incorporating sustainability practices into their personal lives or job activities.
As the report indicated, the elements of sustainability engagement that have the biggest impact on employee engagement are whether employees can incorporate sustainability practices into their job or personal life. The report refers to this as "job purposing" — the concept of linking an organization’s purpose and an individual’s job to societal contribution. The case studies included in the report indicate a trend in job purposing at some firms to include sustainability-focused employee engagement programs.
The report concludes with three best practices worth passing along:
- Create transformative sustainability engagement opportunities that offer opportunities for personal and professional development to foster purpose and drive employee engagement.
- Work within the existing business measures established by HR to measure sustainability and employee engagement.
- Demonstrate the value of sustainability engagement by linking measures of social impact to more traditional HR measures of employee engagement, such as discretionary effort, retention and pride.