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Andrea Newell headshot

Employee Integration: Going Beyond Employee Engagement

Employee volunteerism is on the rise and employee engagement has become a mainstream concept, one which many companies fervently believe is essential to employee attraction and retention. The next concept on the horizon: employee integration.

At Sustainable Brands 2012, Jeff Mendelsohn (New Leaf Paper) and Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism) hosted a session to discuss this new trend with a group of CSR veterans, including SC Johnson, Patagonia, UPS, Harley Davidson, Net Impact, Seventh Generation, eBay, Procter & Gamble and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

The discussion began with Hunter Lovins reiterating the benefits of employee engagement:

  • Engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry.

  • People who believe their jobs are meaningful channel their “discretionary effort” into their work. High complexity jobs can show up to a 48 percent improvement, while sales ranges from a 48-120 percent improvement over average workers

  • Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index estimates cost of America’s disengagement crisis at $300 billion in lost productivity each year

  • 92 percent of millenials say they want to work for a socially responsible company

  • 88 percent of senior sustainability executives planned to invest significantly in employee engagement in 2010

  • Companies that are leaders in environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies are outperforming competitors in stock performance—by an average of 25%. 72% of the companies on the list outperformed industry peers, while the poorly performing firms are far more likely to have nobody in charge of sustainability issues.

Clearly employee engagement has caught the attention of business leaders and a recent Net Impact report, What Workers Want in 2012, confirms that employees are on board. So what’s the next step? Many businesses are going further and integrating sustainability into employee job descriptions, tying it to bonuses and compensation, and embedding it into the very fabric of their company. Hunter and Jeff call it employee integration.

The line between employee engagement and employee integration is a blurry one. Each company at the session had a great story to tell about engagement, but not many could claim to have tackled employee integration in a meaningful way, with the exceptions of Patagonia (no surprise), Sierra Nevada, and SC Johnson – each to varying degrees.

Other companies (not present at this discussion) that have good examples include Intel (ties employee bonuses to completion of sustainability goals), Stonyfield (employee bonuses are tied to energy savings) and Burt’s Bees (requires all employees complete 30 hours of training per year in environmental stewardship, social outreach, natural wellness and leadership).

Some participants reported execution problems, while others cited c-suite skepticism as a barrier. In the absence of top-down buy-in, others established personal sustainability goals as part of an employee’s annual goals to meet. SC Johnson’s Cindy Drucker believes that it is more effective to tie sustainability goals to the business, rather than isolate employees with their own personal goals.

“If we give people their own goals, it doesn’t inspire the same sort of collaboration that it does if you integrate it into the business, because what ends up happening is that people start working in teams and you end up with procurement working with your supply chain working with sales, and that, in and of itself, is very valuable from a business perspective.”

So, if employee engagement is good for the business, then employee integration must be even better, right? Not so fast, caution Chris Jarvis and Angela Parker of Realized Worth, pioneers in employee volunteerism and engagement. Not everyone is indoctrinated into sustainability and social responsibility before starting work. Jarvis agrees that employee integration is the logical and important next step from employee volunteerism and engagement, but it can’t be the first step in the process. If someone applies for a job, not really understanding the implications of sustainability, social good can quickly become an obligation, rather than a benefit.

Parker says, “It’s important to take that journey where you discover the personal satisfaction of doing good and it becomes truly integrated, rather than just part of your job. If you only experience social good as a requirement of your job, you may never internalize it, and it might always simply something you have to do for work. Employee integration is an important next step, but you can’t exclude the initial journey of volunteerism and engagement, in our opinion.”

image: Sustainable Brands All rights reserved.

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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