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5 Employee Engagement Tips from PricewaterhouseCoopers

| Thursday December 15th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Shannon Schuyler speaking at the recent Social Innovation Summit

Surprisingly, Shannon Schuyler, Head of Corporate Responsibility at PwC, who oversees engagement for the 35,000 PwC employees, is trying to move away from “employee engagement.” That’s because engagement has to start before associates even join the firm, she told me in a phone interview yesterday, so that you know you are recruiting employees who have the appropriate mindset for your company.

Engaging prospective employees

This engagement starts with interns who participate in a service-oriented retreat to Belize along with current employees and alumni. While they conduct classes in financial literacy for local communities, current staff are able to get a feel for the working habits and styles of prospective employees. Says Schuyler, “As a member of the PwC team, you’ll be on an engagement team working within companies to educate. We want to see how well you perform on volunteer projects which require both cooperation and leadership, because the skills translate.” Of course, the interns love the opportunity to travel.

Back at home, PwC runs a program called Make [It] Count which gives $450 in seed money to selected partners and staff who design and implement a service project. Staff then share the results of their efforts with the rest of the community through video interviews which are displayed on video screens in PwC offices around the globe.

The program was so successful internally that this year, PwC decided to roll it out to university students around the country. Students submitted proposals for service projects they wanted to implement with $5,000 in seed funding, and the top 19 projects were selected to receive funding.

The impact from this program is improved communities and a whole bunch of students who leave university with increased leadership skills and an orientation toward service — many of whom come to work at PwC. The program ends up being one large work sample for a host of prospective staff members.

Engaging employees

Just to make sure that the corporate responsibility team is on the pulse of what employees care about, they engage in frequent conversation and feedback with staff and partners. Each communication that is sent out includes an “ask me anything” button for employees to respond with questions or ideas. That is on top of daily news briefs and the video series where staff members share their service experiences with the larger team.

With all of that, finding effective ways to reach staff is a constant challenge for Shannon. She states, “The first step is just to catch people and let them know the department exists so that they can even become aware that they are being engaged.”

Once they become aware of corporate responsibility, many want in. The CR team started a sabbatical program to let members of other teams become full members of the CR group for anywhere from 1-3 months. This is a win-win, because the staff members get to work on exciting projects and they demonstrate to the partner in their normal group that they are interested in hard work. CR gets a helping hand and, when the sabbatical is over, an advocate in another department to continue sharing the CR message throughout the organization.

Giving back

In addition to the Make [It] Count program, PwC encourages staff members throughout the organization to volunteer their time (and/or money) in their communities. In the summer, PwC employees participate in nearly 400 projects. The corporate responsibility team has found that young staff members prefer to give their time, while older staff members tend to prefer to donate financially, so the team tries to facilitate that divide with a number of options for both groups. They recently gave $50 Donors Choose gift cards to each employee, which allowed them to donate to a cause of their choosing. Forty-six percent of employees used their cards, the highest rate of corporate reimbursement Donors Choose has seen. Additionally, the staff ended up spending over $10,000 of their own money on individual giving through the portal.

Teaching companies how to implement engagement

All the lessons PwC is learning internally are also shared with the companies they work with. Schuyler chuckles while she tells me that it would be great if there was one solution for every company and every department, but the most effective engagement happens at the community level. The programs that work the best have to be supported and developed by staff on the ground. Only they know where their passions, and their community’s needs, lie.

In order to determine what employees care about, Schuyler recommends using the “affinity circles” model to help employees self-organize around issues of mutual interest, culture, or circumstance. PwC began using affinity circles in earnest as a way to increase diversity by creating mentorship opportunities for young minority associates. The model quickly extended to working parents and other circumstantial groups. Now, PwC is using the format to seek out environmentally or socially minded associates and help them self-organize into service groups like green teams.

The bottom line

When we talk about social and environmental engagement within corporations, it always comes back to the bottom line: how do these programs make money for the company?

As a data-driven company, PwC has the answer. The most obvious benefit of these programs is that employees are asking for them and it’s good to keep employees happy. Eighty percent of new recruits want to do something that is socially responsible. What exactly does that mean?

PwC has found an interesting correlation between corporate responsibility and the financial bottom line.

There is a positive correlation between worker satisfaction and client satisfaction or “brand health.” That is to say that the communities where they have rolled out service programs have happier workers, and those workers do a better job, leading to clients who report good things about having worked with PwC.

There is also a correlation between hours spent volunteering, longevity, and performance: workers who volunteer stay with the company longer and demonstrate better performance. Sadly, this correlation peters out at the highest level among the very top performers — indicating that those with the highest “utilization time” probably don’t have much time to volunteer. The company is currently considering whether or not it makes sense to drop their utilization a little bit so that they have time to give back in their communities.

At the end of the day, PwC has found through exit interviews that while the engagement programs can’t keep staff, they do give them a reason to want to return to PwC at a later state in their careers.


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  • Dave Nanderam

    Enjoyed reading this article as it nicely highlights how corporate responsibility efforts can be integrated with Human Resource[HR] programs that support different employment deal phases -from recruitment to exit interview practices.
    Given the HR function’s role as key workplace culture change agent, it seems natural that this function should “lead by example”, through integration of corporate responsibility thinking within its own programs/policies, in linking corporate responsibility efforts to measureable business success.
    Although leadership culture is evolving, there is still a general tendency to view corporate responsibility through moral rather than business lens. The latter perspective recognizes that civic engagement is good for employee engagement which is good for the bottom line.