Thirteen years ago, it was really, really hard to find data about employee engagement and impact programs like sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Which was not helpful when you were trying to launch a company suggesting that helping companies do this could be a viable, potentially even a big, business.
I finally found a little company in Vermont, Brighter Planet, that had actually conducted a statistically sound research report. The data was compelling as well. I used that data in fundraising and sales pitches. They re-ran the report and the data was even better because now it had a trendline.
Then I heard through their CEO that they were being sold and that part of their business would be winding down. I asked if we could “license” the right to use their past research and the methodology and data. They said yes and in 2014, WeSpire published our very first “own” State of Employee Engagement in Sustainability & CSR research.
This Wednesday, our fabulous Chief Marketing Officer, Brandon Young and I, previewed the results of our ninth(!) report as part of WeSpire Live. The full report will be available Monday. Click here to get it directly in your inbox. We’ve continued to evolve the scope of the report as the impact space has expanded to include wellbeing and inclusive culture efforts. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only report that measures how many companies offer these programs, how many employees participate in them, and how effective employees think they are. We also run statistical analysis to compare how availability and effectiveness impact culture outcomes like perception of company, likelihood to recommend, intent to stay, and this year for the first time, psychological safety. We gather demographic data to show how the results differ by age, gender, race, industry, and geography.
This report is a treasure trove of insights. Some key highlights from this year:
- Availability of programs is up across the board, but there has been a huge jump in sustainability (defined for survey participants as programs focused largely on environment and environmental health). Wellbeing continues to lead the pack as most offered.
- Perceived effectiveness of programs is improving dramatically as companies invest more in tools, communications, and the resources to manage them
- Employees, particularly younger employees and employees of color, place very significant value on the presence of these programs and they dramatically improve retention
But the most fascinating data, to me, this year was the connection between Impact programs and psychological safety. First off, I think we may now have one of the most comprehensive research sets about employee psychological safety by industry, geography, age, gender, and race available. It’s got us spinning with ideas to enable benchmarking. Who knew that Utilities & Energy had the highest levels of psychological safety and Food & Beverage had the lowest? But wow, does being perceived by your employees as being a force for good in this world have a huge correlation with higher psychological safety scores. It was significantly higher than being able to work remotely or even seniority level in the organization.
To the extent that Project Aristotle from Google proved that high psychological safety was the most important factor for high performing teams, our data just reinforces the connection that impact programs dramatically improve the perception that you are a force for good and that in turn, impacts psychological safety, which in turn impacts performance. It’s one of the strongest parts of the business case ultimately for impact initiatives.
We conducted this year's survey in the midst of a culture war in the US where some prominent members of one party have decided “ESG” - one of the terms often used to describe many of these impact programs to investors - is bad for business. Since every management strategist believes that culture is essential to good business outcomes, this data is just another proof point that they are totally wrong. Employees want these programs, they participate in these programs, and these programs drive better business outcomes.
So if you are feeling at all embattled right now by this war, go take this report, march into the chief people officer, head of investor relations, and chief executive’s office and remind them that the company may decide to adjust what you say externally, but change what you do internally at your peril. Unless of course, it’s to double down on impact.