Employee Engagement Rethought

Employee Engagement Rethought

The post I wrote on Sunday about the institutionalization of corporate responsibility and the need for more innovation seems to have struck a chord. It’s also made me think more about how specific aspect of corporate responsibility have become ubiquitous and, as a result, may have lost a degree of meaning and impact.

 Employee engagement is a good example. One the one hand, this area is one of the first elements of corporate responsibility to have a been documented as a business driver and direct contributor to key business metrics including recruitment, retention, productivity, reduced training costs, and so on.  On the on other hand, after years of people “talking the talk”, I’m hard pressed to see anything really remarkable.

Daphne Woolf, Managing Partner of the Collin Baer Group, and one of the most knowledgeable people I know in this area, sent me a great article she wrote in 2006 about how to enhance employee engagement (you can access this on their web site – it’s got a great list of tips).  The problem is that most of our clients and other corporate responsibility and HR people I speak to are already doing the right things and not seeing the results they expect. (Often fewer than 15% of employees are actually engaged in corporate responsibility or involved in community investment programs).

What could we do differently?

1. Recognize that there are a relatively small number of employees who are excited enough about corporate responsibility to go above and beyond in their own ways. These people are our champions! We should do whatever we can to reward these folks with time and resources and let them spread the word and get others involved. In corporate responsibility, I think quality trumps quantity every time.

2. Really integrate corporate responsibility into job functions and ensure corporate responsibility is incorporated into job performance. I know, this isn’t a new idea. I also know that in the vast majority of cases, this simply hasn’t happened. I say, HR should get on it!

3. Make it fun. So much of what we do in this area is earnest and well meaning but also BORING! Ask yourselves what can be be done to make your programs genuinely fun for people. Today, most people’s work experience corporations and other large organizations is stressful, uninspired, and intense. So, the fun bar is really very low – ask yourself what if would take to get people to laugh.


Paul Klein is president of Impakt Corporation, a Toronto-based outfit that helps corporations increase the returns on their community investments.