Sustainability: Engaging Employees


Third in the WHY SERIES of articles addressing the business case for sustainability in the building industry

“It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it…”
– Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Internal to an organization, talent attraction, retention, and productivity are the main reasons for having a sustainability focus.  More and more young professionals want to work for organizations that share their values. Instead of just competing on wages, firms are also appealing to and retaining staff based on their practices. Further, employees that are engaged with a company contribute more to the bottom-line and often create product and process improvements.

Let’s break this explanation into parts and let numbers from some leading surveys and reports do the talking.

1. Does sustainability affect talent attraction?

According to the Net Impact:

  • 45% of students would be willing to take a 15% paycut for a job that makes a social or environmental impact.

  • Additionally, students said that having a job where they can make an impact is more important than having children, a prestigious career, being wealthy, or being a community leader — ranking only below financial security and marriage. Professionals show similar prioritization, with having children rising higher on their list of goals.

2. Does sustainability make employees more engaged?

According to Net Impact:

  • Employees who feel they can make an impact on social and environmental issues while on the job are twice as satisfied with work as those who don’t.

According to the Corporate Leadership Council:

  • Employees with lower engagement are 4 times more likely to leave their jobs than those who are highly engaged.

In case you have any questions as to whether employee retention has economic value, consider some of the direct costs associated with onboarding a new employee:

  • Advertising costs, recruitment agency fees, employee time for the process (creation of job description , interviews, reference checking, offer/rejection letters, employment contracts, induction and training, and salary for the new employee before they are up-to-speed enough to contribute)

3. And if sustainability means they are more engaged, does that increase productivity and performance?

“Turned on” people figure out how to beat the competition, “Turned off” people only complain about being beaten by the competition.
– Ben Simonton, author of Leading People To Be Highly Motivated And Committed

Performance depends on the heart over the mind
– Corporate Leadership Council

  • From Towers Perrin: A 5% increase in total employee engagement correlates to a .7% increase in operating margin.

  • From the Harvard Business Review: Sears measured that a 5 point improvement in employee attitudes drove a 1.3 point improvement in customer satisfaction, which in turn drove a 0.5% improvement in revenue.

  • From Kenexa: A study of 64 organizations revealed that organizations with highly engaged employees achieve 2 times the annual net income of organizations whose employees lag behind on engagement.

It is said that numbers don’t lie.

While that is debatable, I think that the above statistics point out there is no question that sustainability adds to employee attraction, retention, productivity, and happiness – and at the end of the day, that speaks directly to a company's bottom line and profitability.

Data sources

Net Impact: Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012
Corporate Leadership Council: Driving Performance and Retention through Employee Engagement
Towers Perrin 2004 European Talent Survey: Reconnecting with Employees: Attracting, Retaining, and Engaging
Harvard Business Review : The Employee-Customer-Profit Chain at Sears
Kenexa: The Impact of Employee Engagement