Top 5 Employee Engagement Practices

| Josh Henretig

One of the things we strive to do on this blog is to showcase efforts across the company where we are making progress advancing environmental sustainability at Microsoft while also recognizing where there’s still work to do. One area where there’s a lot of great work happening, is in the area of employee engagement.

As many organizations will attest, strong employee engagement programs can be a cornerstone for achieving long-term success and shared value. Keeping employees engaged, happy, and productive is a longstanding priority for Microsoft and is reflected in the recognition we’ve received, like the “Best Multinational Workplace in 2011”. But when it comes to harnessing the power of our employees and aligning their efforts with our corporate sustainability goals, I wanted to share what we are doing and also acknowledge that, like many sustainability projects, this is a work in progress.

clip_image002With an eye on authenticity and lasting impact, we’ve laid out five steps that serve as a basic framework for our employee engagement programs and may even inspire work in your own organization.

1. Increase Awareness: For Microsoft, the road to successful engagement starts with increasing employee awareness around the company’s environmental commitments and the role employees can play in meeting those objectives. The ability to inspire employees can have an amplifying effect on both the company and the communities where people live. To spread awareness of Microsoft’s environmental activities, we leverage a myriad of communication vehicles, including internal and external websites highlighting our progress, quarterly newsletters, online sustainability training, and relevant signage in places like cafés where our robust recycling and composting program is hard at work. Another method of spreading awareness is through our quarterly Environmental Action Awards where we recognize our teams or employees who have shown leadership in the way our company, products, and/or services can make a difference for our customers, partners and for society.

2. Drive Engagement: Microsoft has a number of “green teams” across the company that provides opportunities for employees who want to be more directly involved in the company’s sustainability work. Three of our more popular “green teams” are:

  • MS Green – This is a grassroots community group that focuses on increasing the environmental awareness of employees and educating them about programs such as mass transit, energy conservation, organic farming, and other local resources.
  • Video: Sustainability Champions ProfileSustainability Champions – This group focuses on increasing energy conservation and waste diversion (primarily in our buildings) through awareness building and educational programs. This group has established goals to reduce controllable energy consumption by 3-10% per building at the plug level.
  • Environmental Sustainability Leads –This is a global community of environmental leaders who manage sustainability work in countries around the world where Microsoft has a significant presence. The ES Leads are primarily focused on reducing employee travel, driving energy efficiency improvements in local offices, engaging with customers and partners on the role of technology for environmental sustainability and for connecting with local policymakers to advance how Information Technology (IT) can enable a low carbon economy.

3. Make it Easy: One of the things we routinely hear from employees who are looking for ways to get involved in our company’s sustainability work is to “make it easy” for them. This isn’t to say that solving the planets energy and environmental challenges is easy, but employees want to know that the time they are committing to employee programs will have a meaningful impact. There are a number ways we address the challenge of making it easy, including the following practices and initiatives:

  • With a flexwork policy and technologies like Skype, Lync and online collaboration tools, our employees can work from home effectively, helping cut back on daily commuting. Other alternative commuting incentives include free public transport passes, subsidized van pools, and free bike storage and maintenance.
  • In our Puget Sound offices, employees can take the Connector bus to and from work, helping eliminate roughly 39,200 miles of travel each day or approximately 9.9 million miles each year. The campus also has 12 electric vehicle charging stations for employee-owned electric vehicles.
  • We have a robust recycling and composting program and as part of this initiative, we’ve replaced our kitchenware (such as plastic cutlery) with compostable products made from corn and potatoes. By actively recycling and composting, our employees have cut waste from our Redmond campus cafeterias in half, helping us inch closer to our ultimate goal of creating zero waste.
  • Newly-purchased IT hardware at Microsoft such as laptops and PC’s must be EPEAT registered and meet ENERGY STAR 5.0 standards.
  • We have the first U.S. corporate campus to achieve The Certified Green Restaurant™ status, giving employees plenty of sustainable, locally sourced meal options.

4. Be Strategic: Not every investment we make in reducing our company’s impact results in a lower carbon footprint. There are a variety of scope-clip_image010related reasons for that, but suffice to say, we think there are important symbolic investments that send a signal to employees that sustainability is a priority. Take our compostable cups, for example. Several years ago, we replaced the orange polystyrene cups found in many of our cafes and kitchenettes with a compostable version. At the time, it was difficult for us to calculate the impact this would have on our waste stream. However, the impact it had on employees was significant, and justified the expense. In fact, nearly every employee you talk to on our Puget Sound campus still associates the green compostable cups (and now flatware) with our environmental commitment. And it just so happens that in fiscal year 2011, our total waste diversion rate was greater than 80 percent overall and 95 percent in our dining facilities, making this an investment that has been both strategic and impactful.

Microsoft Building 995. Report Your Progress: Microsoft has been diligently reporting its carbon emissions and energy use through the Carbon Disclosure Project for the last seven years. But when it comes to employee engagement, we’ve learned that sharing our progress and best practices along the way allows us to unlock new levels of understanding about the resources we use and helps us further reduce our impact on the environment. For example, through our Energy-Smart Buildings Project, we are achieving significant gains in building efficiency by changing the behavior of building occupants by displaying information about energy usage so that occupants know how their own actions can further reduce energy consumption. Couple that with our Sustainability Champions program and we believe we will reduce plug-load energy consumption by an additional three to five percent. This, of course, brings us full circle to our goals of increasing awareness and empowering our employees to align their efforts with our corporate sustainability goals

We recognize that employee engagement is an important part of a successful environmental sustainability strategy and that it is an even more critical component for Microsoft and others to unlock their full potential. We welcome your thoughts about our approach. What’s working for you and your organization?

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