Guest blog post byAlyson Genovese, Twitter: @alysongenovese

Often when I speak to clients, and frequently among my peers in the sustainability sector, the term “employee engagement” is interpreted as a smart and new term for “employee volunteerism.” But are those terms really synonymous? In the words of Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Watch the video clip here – but you really need to see the whole movie, it’s great!)

The essential employee

Edelman’s announcement that it is shifting one of its practice areas to Employee Engagement is an interesting new bellwether. Edelman states that one of the reasons why it is shifting its practice area to Employee Engagement is because the firm’s Trust Barometer found that 50 percent of respondents believe employees are reliable sources of information about their companies. It’s surprising that number isn’t higher… Employees are where every intention, every strategy, every plan comes together – no matter how strong the new product, branding or sustainability plans we design at the corporate level are, if an employee doesn’t feel, act and articulate how they are a critical part of their organization, we’ve left a powerful asset on the table and critically injured the chances for success.

For instance, a recent client developed a sophisticated (and first-time) environmental platform. They spent thousands to build detailed goals and metrics. They also spent thousands to develop a communications strategy to tell employees about the new program, which included ways for employees to serve as volunteers at environmental-focused nonprofit organizations. What they did not spend resources on is working with employees to examine and articulate how their daily choices in activities such as materials procurement, budgeting, client management and even where they throw away their lunch trash. These daily and sometimes mundane decisions are critical to the success or the demise of the internal and most important elements of the strategy. If an employee doesn’t understand or feel empowered to do something as simple as recycle those cardboard containers instead of throwing them in the dumpster, it’s all for naught.

For more about the importance of getting employees on board for these programs, read our blog ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: Customers Buy It, Employees Sell It‘.

How to engage your employees

There are great examples of ways that companies are truly engaging with their employees as a way to propel their sustainability initiatives forward. Green Biz published Toward Engagement 2.0: Creating a More Sustainable Company Through Employee Engagement late last year, which offers some excellent examples from companies such as Stonyfield Farm, jcpenney, and PG&E. The tool also offers useful tools and language for practitioners struggling with this issue in their workplace.

Employee volunteerism is, of course, a key tactic toward engaging employees in a corporation’s citizenship program. Strategic employee volunteerism programs are powerful, inspirational and visible incarnation of a company’s values within the community. They help drive employee pride and loyalty, build skills and generally make you feel awesome. A good employee volunteer program can turn your employees on, but it doesn’t mean they are truly engaged.

If you want to understand how employee volunteering can and does drive employee engagement be sure to read: ‘Business Case #1: Employee Volunteering Creates Employee Engagement‘.

What companies do you think are doing a great job of engaging employees in understanding their role in advancing the company’s sustainability efforts forward?

We’d love to hear from you!

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GUEST BLOG POST: Alyson Genovese is a freelance consultant on issues related to sustainability,corporate social responsibility, public affairs, and employee engagement. She has over 16 years of experience in the private, nonprofit and academic sectors. Alyson may be reached at alyson.genovese@gmail.comalyson@causesolutions.com www.causesolutions.com Twitter: @alysongenovese

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