The ripple effect of Gallup’s recent research on the State of the Workplace continues to widen. Their report basically indicted companies globally for their inattention to criticality of an engaged and motivated employee base. Based on their research, only 13% of employees worldwide are actively engaged in their work. For the U.S. alone, they assert, that translates to between $450-550B in lost revenue. Those are huge numbers, and a wake-up call for executives to assess their organizations and look for ways to improve the engagement of their workforce.
One powerful motivator of engagement is having a sense purpose and positive impact. In fact, Towers Watson found that the third-most important driver of engagement was a company’s reputation for social responsibility. A recent PwC study found that more than half of recent college graduates are seeking a company that has corporate social responsibility (CSR) values that align with their own, and 56% said they would consider leaving a company that didn’t have the values they expected.

WeSpire – the Boston-based technology company that I founded – runs engagement program for global corporations that focus on positive impact. Our cloud-based platform is a pioneer in the persuasive technology space and leverages the power of social and game mechanics to engage people in sustainability, corporate social responsibility, volunteering, safety, well-being and other positive impact initiatives. We work with, and learn from, our global customers and help build awareness, motivate action and measure the impact of the actions their people take.

Earlier this summer, we had the opportunity to take a broader look at trends and best practices in employee engagement, specifically as it relates to sustainability. What works, what doesn’t? What’s the best use of people’s time and company resources to help ensure that result? How do people learn? And, does mission-based leadership play a role? It was the third time the study has been conducted so it is based on five years of trending data.

One key takeaway from the research: sustainability and values-based initiatives are important components of effective employee engagement. People not only want to work for a company that supports positive actions outside of the organization, they want the opportunity to participate too. As one respondent succinctly put it: “I’d love for my company to be more focused on sustainability and to provide initiatives for employees.” Sadly, only 30% of people said their employers offered such a program.

A second interesting takeaway was the way in which employees learn. The lines between work and home are increasingly blurring. A full 89% of respondents stated that they would try a sustainability tactic at home that they adopted at work. This represents a big opportunity for companies to have a more positive impact on society as a whole.

CornerstoneJSFB_Summer2014.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Pro

Employees also care passionately about what their company, and their colleagues, are doing: 65% of respondents (and 75% of Millennials) are interested in learning more about their colleagues’ actions as it relates to sustainability, which shows the power of the workplace social network to drive change.

Finally, the research showed employees want more communication, more interaction, and more opportunity to participate in sustainability-related initiatives. That offers a huge opportunity to reach employees on a topic that matters to them and enable them to find purpose at work.

While there’s no silver bullet for engagement, it’s clear that the time has come for every company to ask how they can use purpose-based engagement programs to close the overall engagement gap and drive powerful business results. It’s not only good for their people, but extremely good for profits.

Susan Hunt Stevens is the CEO and founder of WeSpire