Investing in employee behaviour change delivers savings and increases productivity.
Quick: what carbon reduction projects have the highest internal rate of return in global corporations? Transportation use? Energy efficiency? According to the recent results of the CDP, it is behavior change. So if the return is so high, why isn’t every company doubling down on engaging employees and inspiring them to take action?
Ask anyone who has tried and they will quickly tell you about the skeletons in the employee engagement closet. How brutally hard it was to develop and implement effective programs, how few people participated, how hard they were to scale – especially globally. Even those with successful participation rates will tell you how hard it was to measure the results and the return.
But new digital and mobile platforms are making comprehensive and effective programs not only easier to roll-out and scale broadly, but highly measurable and defensible from an ROI standpoint. Will an employee engagement platform focused on positive actions start to become a “must” for every company committed to sustainability and responsibility?
Many corporations believe the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!”, and their early results are enough to convince most CEOs and CFOs, of the value of investing in employee engagement. For example, Sony Electronics has launched a green workplace certification and recently added it to its overall Road to Zero environmental goal. The certification encourages employees to take steps ranging from eliminating their in-office trashcan to turning on the energy-saving settings on their computer. Based on steps they complete, they earn one of four badges: seed, leaf, tree and forest, and can earn “Sony Bucks” along the way.
In the pilot phase of the program, the company says it made an average saving per participant of $85, with less than a $20 investment, making that a four times return on investment in year one. At scale, the program could lead to approximately $300,000 in savings among office employees just in direct, measurable resource costs. Eric Johnson, who runs the program for Sony Electronics, stated: “small behavior changes add up to big savings, especially when multiplied across a large organization. Building a story about why each action is important and packaging it in a way that is approachable, scalable and most of all fun encourages people to ‘own’ the actions they choose to take on”.
While the direct cost savings are appealing, many companies are realizing that even greater value is derived by the benefits these programs have on employee productivity. The reason is that sustainability initiatives are highly appealing to employees, and can be core to driving overall engagement improvements. According to Towers Perrin, an engaged employee loses only 8 days of productivity per year versus 14 days for an unengaged employee. Even more fascinating is what Andrew Savitz says in his book Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line. For those companies with sustainability engagement initiatives, the overall employee engagement rate increased, even for those employees who didn’t participate. Just the presence of a robust program creates an engagement halo effect for all employees.
So sustainability engagement initiatives can save the company money and improve overall employee engagement rates, but can they go even beyond and start to impact revenue? Recent research by the Harvard Business School for Caesars Entertainment found that customer loyalty and satisfaction – their overall experience and willingness to return to one of its hotels or casinos– is directly linked to employees’ level of participation in sustainable activities at work.
Caesars Entertainment’s program, called CodeGreen, includes volunteering, workplace sustainability actions as well as CodeGreen At Home components, and it has rolled out a digital platform to encourage connection, competition and action among employees at several of their properties. Gwen Migita, VP of sustainability and community affairs, believes adding a digital and mobile component will greatly enhance employees experience with learning, supporting company programs, and creating a fun – not so preachy – way for employees to save money at home.
So if your company does not have a platform or program yet, what are the key success factors in designing or selecting one? First, ensure it can be accessible to all employees you hope to engage. For many companies, the inclusion of web and mobile components and multiple languages is key to widespread adoption. Second, align the program components to your own definition of sustainability to ensure the platform includes all major components of your strategy and reflects and supports your key sustainability goals. Third, make sure that the content and programs are updated regularly and targeted strategically to specific subsets of employees to keep engagement high, and relevant, based on an employee’s job function or geography. And last, but certainly not least, make sure you have metrics in place to showcase the huge return that these initiatives are getting. For that will be the key to ensuring long-term support and proving that yes, investing in behavior change not only delivers ROI, but can also be the driving force behind a successful company.