How to engage employees: Advice from four leaders

Talent Show

How to engage employees: Advice from four leaders

In the midst of a consistent challenge regarding how to quantify their efforts, a panel of sustainability professionals offered advice on how companies can engage their employees at this year’s Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego, Calif.

Titled “Employees: The Hidden Sustainable Brand Asset,” the panel was moderated by Saatchi & Saatchi S CEO Annie Longsworth and featured Bart Alexander, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer of Molson Coors Brewing Co.; Meredith Raymond, Associate Director for Global Sustainability and Product Stewardship with Life Technologies; Randi Braunwalder, Environmental Programs Manager with HP; and Gwen Migita, Vice President for Sustainability and Community Affairs with Caesars Entertainment. 

Braunwalder kicked off the discussion by sharing how HP started to engage its employees with the company’s sustainability efforts. Each worker receives four hours a month to volunteer at a cause of their choice.

HP has also initiated a national Speakers Bureau comprised of 110 employees who volunteer to represent HP at community events.

In 2009, the company introduced a new program to motivate sales teams to learn about sustainability and inform its customers about it. Named Eco Advocates, the program emphasized awareness through learning, Braunwalder said.

And it also formed its first virtual employee network group for the company's telecommuters in Melbourne.

"They have green goals, regular meetings and very successful exercises. And it fits well with their work days," Braunwalder said.

Photo of smiling colleagues provided by Yuri Arcurs via Shutterstock


Panelists said that the way a company presents its engagement programs to employees can make a difference.

"First, recognize that when you talk about sustainability, chances are the employees have been doing that for a long time," Molson Coors’ Alexander said. "Second, break it down into commitments. And three, broaden the scope to include ethical, social and environmental so that employees can engage on what matters most to them."

Raymond agreed. "If you know your audience and what they're looking for, you can twist the language to make it work for them,” she said. “Don't let the question of ROI or management support slow you down. It's one step at a time."

"Sustainable communication must be used in all communication,” Alexander added. “We should not be crafting specific communication for sustainability. It should be consistent and the CSR message should always be there."

"Our biggest problem today is the language we use as sustainability professionals,” he said. “It's a kind of a way of talking that doesn’t mean much. If we can talk to our friends and family in an easy and relatable manner, then why not in business?"


Panelists offered tips on how companies can start or advance their employee engagement program.

For Caesars, a successful sustainability strategy must include front line employees. "We've deployed a bottom-up approach to create a path and coordinate all our employee-facing programs," Migita said.

"It must fit in with business strategy," said Migita.

"Has to be grassroots," said Raymond.

"It has to be real and keep into account who is the communicator in that particular setting," Alexander added.

Measuring impact

An audience member asked how companies quantify their engagement efforts.

While none of the panelists had a clear answer, Raymond acknowledged that it was hard to connect Life Technologies’ employee engagement “Do One Thing” program with tangible results.

"So we fall [back] on measures like our standing on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, our energy, waste and water metrics, etc.," she said.

For HP, Braunwalder said, measurement comes from impressions for webcasts, number of attendees at events, feedback and survey responses. Alexander said that the methods depends on what each company decides it wants to do.

“Once we are able to show that CSR is driving employee engagement, that was the solidifying moment in terms of measurement," he said.

The big picture

When does employee engagement fit in with regard to the big sustainability strategy? For Life Technologies, Raymond offered that while the company's sustainability efforts started in 2004, the engagement piece has constantly evolved through the years.

“As our strategy scaled up, so did the organization,” she said. “But then we hit a plateau. Our green teams across 52 facilities were celebrating Earth Day with local events and focusing too much on fun, light event-driven exercises. We needed more and realized that we needed to make these initiatives much more meaningful," she said.

So in 2009, Life partnered with Saatchi & Saatchi S to start the Do One Thing campaign. "Because we were leading with the environment, we were hitting only so many employees. With Do One Thing, that restriction lifted and suddenly sustainability became much more actionable," she said.

“The campaign was relatable and repeatable,” she said. The campaign is new and is still in a testing phase, she added.