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Commitment to sustainability boosts employee engagement

Candidates are looking for employers with a positive social impact, said Peninsula's employment services director

Companies in which employees felt a genuine commitment to sustainability had a 16% higher employee engagement rate than those where employees felt the commitment was absent, a survey by employee experience business Culture Amp has found. 

However, less than a third (27%) of companies asked employees if the organisation’s social responsibility strategy was considered genuine, in employee engagement surveys.

More than half (64%) of UK company representatives agreed that their employers’ commitment to social responsibility and climate change is genuine.

Kate Palmer, employment services director at the consultancy Peninsula, told HR magazine that employees increasingly want employers to have a positive impact.

She said: “It appears that candidates are not only looking for a job that they enjoy and offers a good benefits package, they’re now looking for an employer that has a positive impact on the planet by operating ethically and sustainably.

“Given the importance that some employees place on this, organisations that recognise this may be keen to publicise their sustainability efforts to staff.”

Palmer noted that social media could be useful for employers looking to signpost their commitment to sustainability to staff. 

Read more: HR’s role in aligning a people and sustainability strategy

She added: “Some organisations may choose to have a policy in place that sets out their approach in this area. 

“Others may choose to tell employees about the steps they take through internal communications.

“With social media being a popular avenue for employees to scope out their perspective, employers having a clear social stance on sustainability throughout their socials may be a tactic that employers use to recruit and retain staff.”

However, the Culture Amp research showed that companies that implemented team service days were more effective in raising perception of their commitment to sustainability than those that published their approach.

The survey found that companies could improve their employees’ perception of their commitment to social responsibility by 15% if they implemented team service days, giving employees one day off per quarter to volunteer.

A separate Culture Amp survey of 109 organisations with 243,000 employees worldwide found that companies that announced targets, such as carbon reduction pledges, scored 2% higher on employee engagement

Sophie Lambin, founder and CEO of workplace sustainability consultancy Kite Insights, stated that sustainability should be embedded into company culture, to avoid appearing as greenwashing.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Incorporating sustainability into the company culture through opportunities for sustainable upskilling, volunteer programmes and green teams fosters a sense of shared purpose and underscores the integration of sustainability into everyday roles.”

Read more: People sustainability: the six key pillars to success

She added that employers could measure employee insights into their sustainability efforts.

Lambin continued: “Employers that go further by measuring employee sustainability knowledge and engagement can gain valuable insights into how sustainability efforts are perceived and areas where improvements can be made.”

David Collings, professor of sustainable business at Trinity Business School, commented that it is equally important for leaders to model their commitment to sustainability.

He told HR magazine: “Ensuring that the commitment to sustainability is embedded in corporate values and culture provides the north star to guide corporate behaviour in decision-making and evaluating current practices. 

“Sustainability needs to be one lens through which these decisions are considered and it must be consistently role modelled by leaders.”

Collings suggested that HR leaders should adopt these values too.

He said: “These values also need to be linked to other HR practices such as performance management and the link to actions and behaviours. 

“Only when these building blocks are in place can organisations really get the messaging and communication right and ensure it doesn't appear as greenwashing.”

Culture Amp examined data from 1,078 organisations, with nearly 396,000 total employees worldwide.