Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Employee Engagement: Is It Just a Myth?

I was at an event on CSR at Social Media Week where Susan MacPhearson of Fenton said,
"employees are the single largest untapped resource in the execution of CSR strategy". 
This statement really stuck with me, and after dwelling on it for weeks, I realized how true it really is.

Companies often boast about their level of employee participation and commitment to CSR initiatives. However, to what extent are employees actually being engaged? Think about some of the most environmentally and socially responsible companies (for me, Nike and Timberland come to mind). Now think about the last time you supported these companies by purchasing a product from one of their stores. Were the employees who helped you aware of the environmental attributes of the products they sold? If you asked an average Nike employee about their Considered Design initiative, how would they respond? Chances are, the average employee will be grossly uninformed about such programs.

In fact, I know first hand that knowledge of CSR initiatives is not "trickling down" from the corporate office to the regional sales floor.  As a lead cashier at a major retail store, I had no idea that the company had made any commitment to CSR or published a CSR report until I googled it.  Our atrocious habit of throwing away 500+ plastic hangers a day made me believe sustainability was a low priority for the company.  Ironically enough, the company's CSR report states, "We are committed to incorporating sustainability into all aspects of our operations and have a fundamental responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment".  Moreover, it says, "Associates at all levels of our organization offer their time, enthusiasm and energy, as well as personal and Company resources in support of many worthy causes through a variety of local, national and international organizations."  So why am I not witnessing any of this myself?  The company's bold commitment to CSR is something to be shouted from the rooftops, yet even employees are unaware.

This lack of awareness is not only plaguing retail companies. A few months ago, I posted about this topic after I attended a networking event at NYU:
I attended a program through NYU’s Wasserman Center today and had the opportunity to meet and network with employees and recruiters from big name companies like Deloitte, Morgan Stanley, IBM, AOL, Macy’s, Black Rock, and Barclays. Since I am looking to get into the CSR field, I asked them what their respective companies were doing in this space. I was a bit disappointed to find that most of them were unable to speak to anything significant their companies have achieved in terms of CSR. I happen to know that most of these companies are taking sustainability concerns into account to some degree, with the exception of Barclays, who will be receiving a Public Eye ”Award” this month. Therefore, this lack of awareness points to a significant problem.
So why is this happening?  Why do employees (especially those, like myself, who are interested in participating in CSR initiatives!) remain an untapped resource?  I'd love to hear your thoughts about how to solve such a problem!  

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