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Frances Edmonds is head of sustainability at HP Canada.
Frances Edmonds is head of sustainability at HP Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How businesses can help employees find purpose at work Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

If you’re a manager, you’ll know attracting and retaining employees requires more than providing them with a phone, a desk, and office space. Employees want to find meaning within their careers, and they are looking to their employers for guidance.

This is especially true among millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the late 1990s. According to a 2015 study from Deloitte, six out of 10 millennials chose their current employers because they felt the organization had “a sense of purpose.”

So how do you instill pride in your employees’ day-to-day roles?

As employers, we need to invest in the idea of “job purposing,” a term coined by corporate consultant Bea Boccalandro. Job purposing encourages employers to broaden the social mission of employees’ work by providing opportunities to serve a societal cause.

For example, at HP, we are committed to reducing the impact our business and our customers have on the environment, while continuing to create technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere. Our commitment to the planet is part of our larger corporate sustainability efforts, which are core to our business strategy and fundamental to every decision we make.

These efforts have led to HP being named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers consecutively for the past eight years. Additionally, HP is the only IT company to win multiple awards for clean capitalism at the Clean 50 Awards.

Our leadership in environmental sustainability has enabled us to share our expertise with our employees. In a recent survey we conducted among our staff, we found that those who volunteer are up to 10 per cent more engaged.

The key is to align your organization with a cause that your employees care about, and ensure that you give them opportunities to become champions of that cause.

Build the right program for your employees It might be tempting to simply begin asking employees to volunteer for various initiatives. However, it’s important to articulate a cohesive strategy that will allow your employees to serve a societal mission, while simultaneously reaching their full potential within your organization.

For example, when I founded the HP Eco Advocates Program in 2008, I wanted to ensure it started with customer-facing employees rather than with executives. The HP Eco Advocates Program educates employees through tools such as podcasts and webcast modules on environmental issues such as conflict minerals, greenwashing, and the circular economy. Employees in turn use this knowledge to educate their customers and colleagues to make sustainable choices.

Take the time to invest in the planning process. If your programs do not align with employees’ interests, your efforts may fail to engage them.

Don’t go it alone – find like-minded partners When I first began developing programs that would emphasize our employees’ skills, I thought we could accomplish our goals without outside help. However, it is extremely helpful to ally your business with other organizations, especially if they have a high profile within the cause you wish to advance.

HP Inc. partnered with World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) to create a program called Living Planet @ Work, championed by HP. This program goes far beyond HP and WWF, and is an inclusive initiative that seeks to involve employees across Canada, regardless of the size of the companies they work for, or the resources they have at their disposal.

The Living Planet @ Work program provides employees with ideas, toolkits, and templates to help them become champions for sustainability. These champion employees are encouraged to create positive change within their organizations by running greening programs, reducing their businesses’ environmental footprint, and engaging their peers.

To support this program, WWF created a network that celebrated and recognized employees’ achievements through webinars, newsletters, and opportunities to interact with top scientists. Since its launch in 2011, the Living Planet @ Work program has transformed 1,174 employees around the world into advocates for sustainability, while raising more than $700,000 through workplace giving.

It is of paramount importance to find the right allies. We were lucky enough to forge a relationship with like-minded individuals like Adrienne Lo, Manager of Employee Engagement for WWF’s Living Planet @ Work. The right partnerships can be immensely beneficial to maximize a program that helps employees make a difference.

Get everyone involved It’s not enough to educate your employees on how to be better corporate citizens. Employees also need to know they have the power to create real change. For both the HP Eco Advocates Program and the Living Planet @ Work initiative, employees are the most important ingredient of success.

For example, the Eco Advocates Program provided employees with training. Once the training was completed, they were able to directly teach customers to leverage HP’s sustainability strategies, cutting down on both their environmental footprint and on their costs. In turn, these employees also became role models for their peers, making this program highly effective at achieving change from the ground up.

Similarly, the Living Planet @ Work program encourages employees to actively help their organizations save energy and reduce waste. They are empowered to coordinate with building managers to reduce lighting and HVAC usage. Employees are also directly involved in creating sustainable procurement policies and fundraising for conservation work.

By involving employees at the ground level, we are enacting positive change. The key here is that employees must be the drivers of that change. That is the hallmark of an effective job purposing program.

I believe that sustainability can ignite innovation, creating a brighter future for everyone, everywhere. Organizations that align their corporate strategy with a societal cause and invest in their employees’ knowledge and training related to that cause will see enormous benefits. Their employees will accomplish great things, while finding their jobs have deeper meaning and purpose.

Frances Edmonds is head of sustainability at HP Canada.

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