Cultivate a Thriving Workforce, No Matter Where Your Team Works

What does it take for people to thrive at work? What can companies do to ensure their employees feel energized and empowered to contribute at work and maximize their productivity?

There’s no single silver bullet, but companies that score high in employee satisfaction and don’t have team members jumping ship tend to have many characteristics in common. These companies focus on inclusion, and help share insight into the value-add various departments bring to the table. They are committed to professional development and encourage staff to learn new skills that can help advance their careers. They organize mentorship programs for their senior and junior staffers, and they celebrate diversity.

These initiatives, while important, will likely get an overhaul in coming years as telecommuting becomes more normative. In fact, by 2022, 60 percent of today’s employees are expected to work remotely.

We know cultivating a thriving workforce is key to collaboration, success, and your bottom line. The following strategies, proven for building winning teams, can help you maximize production and engagement wherever your employees are based.

Embracing a Remote Workforce. While news of IBM calling back their remote workforce to the office made headlines, working remotely is gaining in popularity. Research indicates work-from-home jobs are a viable career path with increasingly more managerial and C-level positions turning into location-independent roles.

It behooves companies to give more thought to the tools and strategies they can use to help in-house and remote workers collaborate to achieve shared goals. This can include dashboards everyone on a team or in a company can view in real-time, as well as weekly check-in calls for teams, no matter their location. Incorporating expectations around collaboration in performance reviews will also send a message that working well together as a team is critical to getting ahead at your company.

Setting Plans for People Development . As routine tasks continue to be automated, it’s important to encourage your workers to identify and develop tomorrow’s in-demand skill sets. These can include design thinking, predictive analytics, and collaboration skills, such as inclusive and digital leadership capabilities. Increase retention, while also adding value to your bottom line, by providing in-house training to help employees develop the skills they will need to drive your company forward in the future. “Even such things as collaborative projects and blogs can help employees learn and gain new skills,” says Sam Liu, a consultant with Mercer.

Motivating Employees Through Opportunity, Meaning & Benefits. Help employees—particularly those working remotely—to fully understand how the company operates and the ins and outs of their roles. Explaining in detail to a new sales manager how the sales team generates leads, makes calls, and closes sales can go a long way and is worth the time investment. This “can mean the difference between a powerful and motivated sales team adding to the bottom line; or a floundering, confused sales department working ineffectively, wasting precious time and losing prime opportunities for new business,” explains business strategist Howard Lewinter on his blog, “Talk Business with Howard.”

Role of Recruiting in Cultivating Office Culture. When hiring, be as transparent about your company values and the corporate culture as possible–starting with job listings, during interviews, and for the onboarding process. In fact, you may even conduct the entire interview process without meeting the candidate face to face if they’ll be working remotely. That process has worked for seven of his recent hires, says Sten Tamkivi, the co-founder and CEO of Teleport, a company that helps workers choose which city in which to live and work.

Tamkivi stresses the importance of incorporating tasks into the interview process that potential hires can do remotely. “We ask people to set deadlines and then deliver what they promised by then—often this reliability and transparency is even more important than the contents of the trial work delivered in a short time,” he says.

Many of the same tactics that have been working for decades to increase employee engagement—such as professional development opportunities, being transparent about the office culture, and creating mentorship programs—will continue to be important. However, as the remote workforce gains more ground, these initiatives will need to shift as companies will use technology to ensure that employees exchange ideas freely and bridge the physical distance that may divide them. Succeeding in these efforts will boost morale—and your company’s bottom line.

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Be the Change: Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility

I’m sure you’ve heard all about the millennial generation. Those 20- to 36-year-olds, pampered throughout their lives by their baby-boomer parents, have grown up to be self-absorbed, entitled narcissists, right? Actually, this isn’t an accurate picture of millennials—and since they now represent the largest share of the American workforce, that’s good to know. Despite widely held perceptions about their supposedly “me-first” ways, these younger workers rank social responsibility as an important tenet of life and are looking to work for companies that share their sense of social responsibility.

In case you doubt the desire of millennials to align themselves with socially responsible companies, look no further than the Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study, which found that 81 percent of this younger generation expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. Millennials also put their money where their mouth is: According to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, 62 percent are willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company—a full six percentage points higher than the average response of all age groups surveyed.

The Need for a CSR Plan

Obviously, then, companies need to do more than just offer perks like free snacks to recruit and retain this valuable workforce segment. Having a formal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program is the key way for companies to demonstrate their commitment to the positive ideals their employees espouse. And here’s a PR bonus for you: By promoting corporate social responsibility, you’re also conveying to your customers that you care about the world outside your company’s walls.

At most companies, the HR department falls into the organizational sweet spot for managing the CSR program. As Angela Schettino of Think People Consulting observes, a company’s HR strategy links to the four components of any successful CSR initiative. First, of course, are employees, in keeping with HR’s focus on their rights and well-being, but the three other components—environment, community, and marketplace—also fall under HR’s domain.

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HR’s most appropriate role in managing a CSR plan would be to monitor its adoption and then document its successes throughout the company. In the area of energy conservation, for instance, the HR department could start by implementing a company-wide recycling program and promote earth-friendly practices like subsidizing public transit costs or encouraging employees to shut off the lights, computers, printers, and copiers during non-work hours.

Try These CSR Initiatives

Here are some other ideas for HR departments and companies to consider as they implement and manage their CSR program.

  • Create a company culture compatible with CSR.As Strategic HR Inc. describes, this can start with your job advertisements and interview process. Use corporate social responsibility as a recruitment tactic, which will attract the socially responsible employees who will support and sustain your program. Perhaps even consider adding a position—Chief Sustainability Officer—whose role would be consistent with your company’s focus on CSR.
  • Pick a cause.Look at what other successful companies are doing and see if your organization can model a similar CSR program. Starbucks, for instance, has several programs in place to promote environmental sustainability. Toms has a program called “Giving Shoes,” in which the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes purchased. To date, the company has given away more than 70 million new pairs of shoes.
  • Allow time off for does this as part of its Employee Engagement Program, giving employees seven days of Volunteer Time Off (VTO) per fiscal year to do something meaningful in their communities.
  • Donate to a good cause.Take a cue from companies like Jersey Mike’s Subs, which has raised more than $20 million since 2010 by donating 100 percent of its sales nationwide on its annual Day of Giving. Or consider the corporate goodwill generated by Patagonia, a sustainable clothing brand that gave all $10 million from its Black Friday 2016 sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations.
  • Match employee contributions. Convey to employees that “we’re all in this together” by matching their contributions to a charity of their choice. It’s a way for them to stretch their giving dollars—and for you to demonstrate firsthand that the causes they value are causes that you value as well.

Demonstrating your company’s commitment to the communities and environment in which you work isn’t just the right ethical decision, it’s good business. As Patti Dunham, MA, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, states “…becoming socially aware and responsible helps the company’s bottom line. The impact on the organization’s public image and becoming an “employer of choice” because of these initiatives is immeasurable.” If you haven’t already done so, consider empowering your HR department to implement and manage a Corporate Social Responsibility program this year.

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How to Successfully Engage Employees in 2017

As more and more millennials come of working age, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to prominently exhibit their corporate social responsibility policies on either their website or their employee handbooks—in part because CSR is proving to be increasingly vital to attracting and retaining quality employees.  In order for employees to feel engaged, it helps for them to feel as if the company they work for is working to benefit society in some way.  According to a study conducted in May of 2016 by Ante Glavas, a model building on engagement theory was tested in which “CSR enables employees to bring more of their whole selves to work, which results in employees being more engaged.”

Interestingly, there is also a correlation between employees’ connection to the world around them through community interaction and their connection to each other, in the workplace.  Both types of connections increase employee engagement by helping them feel as if they belong, rather than merely fulfilling their job-related duties, throughout the week.  For example, Four Winds Interactive was losing over $4M a year due to high employee turnover.  Because of this, they decided to invest in peer recognition programs, community engagement opportunities, wellness programs, and employee benefits.  In addition, they invested in an internal visual communication network that visually reinforced employees who participated in wellness or extracurricular activities.  As a result, their turnover rate decreased by half, after a year—which also saved them more than $2M.

In order to save the $2K a year it costs to deal with low employee productivity, increasing an organization’s culture and level of employee collaboration will help minimize disengagement and boredom.  One crucial component to keep an eye on is the level of peer camaraderie, since it is the number one motivator that inspires employees to work especially hard.  Other engaging factors, according to Villanova University, include employee and supervisor familiarity, basic training, employee development, employee recognition, teamwork, employee coaching, and customer-focused teams.  Encouragement and inspiration are key to maximizing engagement.

How can managers encourage the retention and development of an engaged workforce?  One way is to monitor compensation levels, making sure that employees are fairly compensated for their hard work.  If there are very large gaps in pay between executives and average employees, these gaps “Create destructive competition among management and cynicism among employees.”  Therefore, in general, large pay gaps don’t make for strong employee morale.  Moreover, differing opinions should be encouraged, career roles should be considered flexible, all employees should be recognized and acknowledged, and there should be ample opportunity for growth and development.

That last point is key: your employees may be engaged and motivated, but are they enabled? In other words, do they have the tools and training they need to do their jobs?  Are they regularly updated about their performance, as well as corporate policies and how to go about adhering to those policies?  Are they given a reasonable amount of work, and do they have ample time to balance that work with their own life, including activities such as community service?  Only when they have the tools they need will they be able to perform their job duties to the best of their abilities, while still feeling motivated and engaged.

Along with engagement, however, let’s not forget about CSR!  How are the two connected, again?  Well, for one, Employee Benefits found that employees involved in CSR initiatives are generally more engaged with an organization’s culture and values.  Perhaps the more in alignment with an organization’s ethics and CSR policies, the more motivated employees become to stick around.  They probably feel inspired by the company’s dedication and gain more of an interest in committing to the same amount of community engagement, themselves, outside of work-related initiatives.

Similarly, The CRO found that “When employees feel that the company they work for is not only socially responsible by investing resources to improve communities around the globe, but is also equally invested in their professional growth, it results in greater employee loyalty and inevitably translates into contributing to the company’s bottom line.”  In other words, the more stable a company, in terms of lack of attrition, the better—financially-speaking.  Of course, the financial benefits also extend to benefits for employee morale.

Moreover, according to research conducted by Philip H. Mirvis, there are several main methods of engaging employees: via a transactional approach, where “programs are undertaken to meet the needs of employees who want to take part in the CSR efforts of a company”; a relational approach, “based on a psychological contract that emphasizes social responsibility”; and “a developmental approach, which aims to activate social responsibility in a company and to develop its employees to be responsible corporate citizens.”  Liz Bardetti advocates for taking a relational route, due to its ability to create what she calls “a deeper level of engagement” that “acknowledges employees as citizens of the company and community.”

The most prominent point that came up over and over again in my research on what makes for good employee engagement was the importance of a feeling of belonging and relationships to motivating employees to remain engaged, in the workplace.  Interestingly, this need—though unsurprising—is totally within the realm of emotion and not at all rational or workplace-duty-related.  It speaks primarily to a very human, primal need—bypassing professional concerns, entirely.

This brings us back to a question of priorities—not just as business people, but as human beings who must coexist with others within a common community, neighborhood, or city.  In the end, what differentiates us is not as important as the characteristics we hold in common.  We should look to these commonalities while looking into sustainable ways to increase our organization’s level of community involvement.  May we all find ways of being that allow us a greater sense of belonging in our everyday lives—in both our workplaces and our homes.

Image source: Daniel Thornton

Up and Coming Careers in Environmental Sustainability

In the face of dire predictions such as that from the World Wildlife Fund predicting the number of wild animals living on Earth will decline two-thirds from 1970 levels by the year 2020, people are beginning to examine their choice of employer or organization in terms of discernible levels of corporate social responsibility.  They’re hoping to tap into a greater purpose, in the business world, other than helping a company turn a profit.  If you’re among those looking for something more, you might consider asking a few questions that tap into deeper meanings.  Is the world a better, safer, or healthier place because of my company?  Is my organization involved in sustainability efforts?  Are we recycling, conserving energy, or reducing waste?      

One way to contribute to sustainability efforts is to work for a company that directly works to advance what is possible, in terms of renewable energy sourcing, reducing one’s carbon footprint, and contribution to wilderness conservation and sustainability efforts.  If you can’t find a gig in your area working for, say, a manufacturer of solar panels, a position as a Chief Sustainability Officer is probably the next best thing.

Here, without further ado, are a few ideas for career paths in sustainability.

I. Wind Energy Industry

There are a number of different types of positions available, within the wind energy industry; however, safe to say, it has experienced rapid growth in the past decade and is expected to continue accelerating; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Wind-generating capacity in the United States grew 39 percent per year from 2004 to 2009, and is expected to grow more rapidly as demand for renewable energy increases.”  The three major sectors relevant to wind power are manufacturing, construction, and operation and maintenance.

For example, if you’re interested in the manufacturing phase of wind turbine production, you might consider a position as a civil or electrical engineer.  The BLS estimates a 12 percent rate of growth for Environmental Engineers, who “Use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.  They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.”  If you’d like to learn more about wind power, there’s even an online journal dedicated to news in the industry.

II. Production Management

All mid-to-large-sized corporations need to make sure their production standards comply with government-issued environmental regulations.  Therefore, a career in production management may be for you if you don’t live in an area with many companies directly specializing in renewable energy or sustainable products.  According to Marylhurst University, production managers “Must be able to not only avoid a corporation failing to meet requirements but to find innovative ways to improve efficiency.”

Rather than seeing governmental regulations as constricting, Dan Roessler claims that sustainability can drive business driver for future products, more efficient operations, and greater profits.  How do production managers do this?  They focus on raw material usage and energy reduction, as well as managing the performance of important sustainability information on company marketing literature and online.  Reducing energy and material use requires data collection and analysis, then establishing an infrastructure that enables sustainability objectives.

III. Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)

Reaching beyond departments dealing solely with production, the Chief Sustainability Officer is also concerned with creating new strategies for being sustainable, as well as researching future programs and services that may be beneficial for the company.  The CSO is also the point-of-reference for any company initiatives related to sustainability.  According to Harvard Business professor George Serafim, “The CSO’s main responsibility is to help develop a sustainability strategy as well as map out how changes will be made,” as well as delegating authority.  In other words, the CSO is the ‘change agent.’

Because it is in the C-suite family of executive management positions, the BLS estimates a CSO’s median pay range to be over 102K a year—not bad for a position advocating for environmental sustainability.  According to Aglaia Ntili, companies need CSOs in order to go beyond greenwashing and meeting production compliance standards to being concerned with the social value created by the company via community initiatives or alternative energy use like wind or solar power at a company-wide level.

IV. Environmental Law

Although it’s not common for environmental lawyers to be employed by one particular company, full time, many lawyers specializing in environmental law act as consultants for a number of different companies.  However, it is important to note that environmental lawyers often represent regulated interests that may be polluters in their own right, and there are a variety of different types of cases that are heard.  For example, according to Legal Planet, a governmental attorney might, at times, “Represent environmental enforcement agencies and at other times may represent state facilities that are sources of pollution or other adverse environmental impacts.”

Still, it is possible to select the cases one works on, and the average pay for lawyers is around 115K a year, so that doesn’t hurt.  Many get involved in environmental law because they feel strongly about wanting to help enforce or change policy surrounding clean water and air, and they believe in their convictions strongly enough to want to get involved, in a tangible way.  Specialists in environmental law can also help advocate for nonprofit organizations.  According to Matthew Littleton of Harvard Law School, “Compared to the private sector, there is room for autonomy and responsibility at an early stage” when working for the federal government.

According to Katie Kross, there are a growing number of international jobs for people with bilingual skills based in Asia—China specifically.  There has also been an increase in entry and junior-level positions because of the general expansion of positions in sustainability.  Therefore, the overall opportunities in sustainability are expanding, so it’s a strong field that doesn’t show any sign of lagging, any time soon.

Do you see a career in sustainability in your future?  Share your thoughts or questions in the comments section, below.

Image Source: Chuck Coker