By Susan Hunt Stevens
We have reached a new era in business – one where employee engagement, sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) all play critical roles in overall success. But, as I continue to hear from companies, figuring out where and how to start – whether that’s adopting a new sustainability initiative or implementing a full-blown employee engagement program – is often most difficult part of the process. Now that’s not to say that these companies don’t understand the benefits and positive impact of such programs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. So much has been made over the past couple of years around just how valuable these programs can be to improving employee satisfaction, retention, productivity and overall bottom-line profits.
To that point, here are the best, most compelling CSR, sustainability and employee engagement research reports that have been published in the past year. What’s important to understand is that these reports go far beyond their stats and figures – they provide valuable insights into how companies are approaching employee engagement, the uptick in the number of companies adopting a “business for good” approach and positive-impact mindset, what employees are looking for from the companies they work for, the importance of employees finding value in their work, and more.
As the report highlights, global organizations today must navigate a “new world of work” – one that requires a dramatic change in strategies for leadership, talent and human resources. Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, explained: “As demand for talent picks up, the balance of power in business is rapidly shifting from the employer to the employee. Moreover, workers are becoming more mobile, contingent, and autonomous, and as a result, harder to manage and engage. In this new world of work, organizations need to re-imagine the way they manage people and come up with new, out-of-the-box ideas to make themselves relevant.”
The key takeaway here is that employees no longer simply clock-in at work, complete their tasks and clock-out. Therefore, organizations must by agile and strategic in their offerings for employees who are demanding flexible schedules, their ability to deliver more benefits (not all necessarily in the form of pay) and their diligence in providing opportunities – whether it be volunteering or leading a corporate recycling program – that enable employees to find deep and personal meaning in and outside of work.
The study, which may be one of the largest of the year, features analysis that measures the engagement of 27 million employees across 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries. The report examines the crucial link among talent, engagement and vital business outcomes, including profitability and productivity. The report also reveals that engagement is highest among employees who communicate with their managers on a daily basis.
This is important, because until recently, not much attention was paid to the value of positive employee-manager relationships. But as companies are finding out, this is a key aspect in driving an engaged workforce, increased productivity, decreased turnover and widespread business benefits.
Ethical Corporation released its State of Sustainability report this year after surveying nearly 1,500 sustainability and CSR professionals from around the world. In the report, the majority of respondents (71 percent) said their company’s organizational leader understood the value of sustainability, and 87 percent agreed that sustainability was becoming an increasingly important strategy.
What we’re seeing here is that, maybe for the first time, businesses are approaching sustainability and CSR initiatives as need-to-haves, not just nice-to-haves. And as consumers demand more and more from the companies they engage and spend money with (more on that later), businesses are debunking the myth that pursuing sustainability is a drain on profits. Instead, they are understanding that by delivering on customer demands, as well as trying to do what’s right as global citizens, these programs can actually boost the bottom line.
If 2015 has proved anything, it’s that CSR is here to stay – not only because consumers are demanding it, but also because companies are leading their own initiatives to adopt sound corporate behavior and drive positive impact. Among other findings in this report, 90 percent of respondents worldwide indicated they would switch brands to support a specific cause, and 84 percent purposefully sought out socially-responsible products. Beyond that, 61 percent of respondents globally indicated they would buy a lesser-quality product to support a CSR initiative.
And these types of findings aren’t just wishful thinking – look at companies like Patagonia, Timberland and TOMS, who have all openly committed to delivering sustainable products and supporting positive impact programs domestically and abroad; these companies have intensely loyal customers (brand advocates, if you will), are all experiencing incredible profits (despite focusing efforts on great products, service and positivity first), and establishing themselves as industry leaders in more ways than one.
5. 7th Annual State of Sustainable Business Report – Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and GlobalScan
BSR is associated with an impressive number of businesses worldwide, so this report is critical in understanding the global mindset around sustainability and CSR. And as some of the other reports this year suggest, the connection between corporate actions and consumer demand is more closely connected than ever before. The findings from the Annual State of Sustainable Business Report suggest that companies are further integrating sustainable initiatives into their business strategies; sustainability is playing an increasingly important business role; human rights remains the top CSR priority for companies; and a large majority of companies include sustainability measures in their key performance indicators (KPIs).
What all of these reports tell us is that we have reached a new height for the importance of employee engagement, CSR and sustainability in the business world. So important, in fact, that I would argue these factors are going to be key differentiators for whether a company succeeds or fails.
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Susan Hunt Stevens is the founder and CEO of WeSpire, the employee engagement platform company that empowers forward-thinking global organizations to reach their greatest potential. She is a recognized expert in the use of social and game mechanics to drive positive behavior change. Previously, Stevens spent nine years at The New York Times Company, most recently as senior vice president/GM of Boston.com. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and The Tuck School of Business. Check out WeSpire’s recent survey, “The Evolution of Employee Engagement Research Report 2015“.