Archive for October, 2012

“What’s In it For Me?” The Secret to Employee Engagement in Sustainability

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

How do we motivate employees who aren’t thinking about the environment to do what needs to be done to protect our natural world for future generations? For our children and grandchildren?

Most employees are trying to solve day-to-day problems like kids’ homework and coping elderly parents. Or keeping their jobs in a down economy. Helping their employer go green may seem like a good idea, but not be front and center.

This is a great challenge, a challenge of human psychology– faced even by corporations that are seriously committed to sustainability.  Corporations that have successfully reduced their environmental impact have often done so by engaging the technical know-how of a few experts without bringing on board the majority of employees. And that’s a missed opportunity.

Here’s a secret: The key to getting employees to want to take the necessary steps to help your company “go green” is to help your employees see– experience, really– how they can personally benefit. And when people feel they’re reaping personal rewards in their work, they are more satisfied, and engaged all around. More sustainability begets more engagement begets more sustainable behaviors. And the engagement isn’t just engagement in sustainability, it’s engagement in their workplace.

The truth about human nature is that for the most part we’re just not very altruistic. But we don’t need to persuade people with scary facts, or moral arguments, or ROIs, to get people to act. We need to move people to action. Here’s how:

1. Make it personal: “Sustainability” is a big, clunky abstract term. (Frankly, I’ve always had difficulty with it myself.) And from a cynical viewpoint to some employees, sustainability can seem like it’s just about the reputational benefits. If you drop the term sustainability and start listening to employees about what’s important to them– and where they think ecological impact can be decreased– you can learn what sustains them. (HINT: It’s probably not your carbon footprint goals.) Then you can co-design programs— not just communications– that expresswhere they live. Note that I said “co-design.”

2. Offer ongoing involvement: One-off events such as speakers and volunteer days have their place. But they don’t meet the need for ongoing, meaningful relationships with coworkers and real impact. Ongoing projects help build relationships that make going to work feel like more than just showing up at work every day. And they make more of a difference in their outcomes.

3. Share and celebrate: Gather employees’ stories of what they’re doing to sustain the natural world and themselves, not just at work but at at home, in their communities. Find out what it does for them. What do they get out of those endeavors? Share those stories– in newsletters, via internal social media, on your website, in your sustainability report, at brown bag lunches– the more interactive the better. This is not about the data you put in your sustainability report. This is about sharing the experiences that transform people’s lives.

If you’re charged with sustainability in your role, chances are you will enjoy your work more, too. Because it’s all about human connection, purpose, and “what’s in it for me”
— or you.

October 31, 2012 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment


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