According to recent research conducted by the Carbon Trust, only 23% of employees in the UK have been asked to help save energy at work, contributing to organisations around the country losing out on a total of more than £300 million a year in savings.

With environmental awareness now at an all-time high and energy prices steadily rising, the research shows that 92% of workers are concerned about keeping energy use down at home. However, less than half feel the same when it comes to their employer’s energy costs.

Despite this, companies are doing little to help themselves. Just 13% of employees surveyed were offered incentives to take more energy efficient measures at work.

Many businesses are missing a trick. What they don’t realise is that one of the most effective methods of reducing their carbon footprint – as well as expenditure – is employee engagement.

This is an assertion backed up by the Carbon Disclosure Project, which has found that instilling behaviour change in employees has the highest internal rate of return for corporations compared to other carbon reduction schemes, including investment in energy efficient technology.

So why aren’t a greater number of organisations doing more to engage with employees?

While most are aware of both their environmental responsibilities and the impact of energy usage on their profits, implementing a long-term programme of energy reduction can be a complicated and time-consuming process, with many who have tried their own internally-run initiatives highlighting difficulties in getting enough employees involved and how to measure the results sufficiently.

It doesn’t have be this way, however.

One major UK-based high street bank, for instance, recently reduced its energy usage by 15% (year-on-year) across its 600 branches after bringing in SMS Plc’s expert Environmental Management team to direct its employee engagement campaign.

Although it is often through making the simplest of changes to the way we work that can have a huge impact on a business’ bottom line when it comes to energy reduction (such as turning off electrical equipment and switching to two-sided printing), embedding this behavioural change throughout an entire organisation is not an easy process. This is where we can help.

Using innovative methods, our team ensures that employees and stakeholders are aware of their company’s environmental and energy commitments. As well as implementing effective strategies and educational programmes, we also ensure employees stay proactively engaged with energy saving objectives by encouraging involvement in initiatives. We not only execute the programme, we track it too, producing regular reports on performance through our state of the art approach to monitoring data consumption, providing continual feedback, and incentivising positive action.

So what are the benefits of employee engagement?

While direct savings on energy costs would at first seem the most obvious and appealing advantage, there is plenty more to gain from an employee engagement programme. Indeed many organisations who have run a successful engagement strategy with their workforce have realised that, aside from dramatically reducing their energy bill, there is even greater worth drawn from the positive outcome on employee satisfaction and productivity.

Engagement schemes are proven to boost morale as they make employees feel listened to and valued by their employer. Research by Towers Watson, for example, shows that an engaged employee loses only eight days of productivity per year as opposed to a whole fortnight for an unengaged employee.

What’s more, another study has found that those companies with engagement initiatives focusing on environmental sustainability in particular witness overall employee engagement rates increase, even for those who didn't take part.

Just knowing that their company cares about the environment improves employee loyalty satisfaction, it would seem. And that not only goes for employees – for customers too!

70% of consumers are willing to pay more for products they consider green, so it’s no surprise that sustainability initiatives have shot up the corporate responsibility agenda, and have become one of the most important factors driving brand loyalty today.

Five steps to successful employee engagement

Communication, communication, communication

In order to effect permanent behaviour change, employees need to be informed, interested and inspired. Energy goals should be made clear, and every employee should understand how their day-to-day actions contribute towards reaching that objective.

Employee briefings, meetings and internal communications methods, such as intranet messages, newsletters and noticeboard prompts, help raise awareness of energy-saving targets. Repeating this communication on a consistent basis can reaffirm this message and make sure that energy saving never strays far from mind.

Encourage participation

As well as communicating, employers should also listen to their employees. Engagement is not a one way process. Inviting employees to participate and share their ideas allows them to feel heard and valued.

One sure-fire way of getting workers actively involved is by forming a network of ‘Green Champions’. A champion scheme empowers employees by handing over responsibility for helping change the behaviour of their colleagues. Just as you may already have with Health & Safety Champions in your workplace, Green Champions take charge of all aspects of energy and sustainability improvement and are exceedingly useful in ensuring targets remain on track.

Recognise and incentivise

Talking of targets, performance indicators are required to inform employees of progress and if their goals are being met. Without this, people can easily become disengaged and lose interest.

Feedback should be given at regular intervals, and not just through pin-ups in the canteen that not everyone reads, but through a variety of communications channels (see point 1). Verbal recognition and positive reinforcement can be especially powerful.

A pat on the back is good for morale, but don’t just leave it there…incentivise success! If employees are doing well at achieving their goals, they need to be rewarded. Offering prizes for best performers is a great way of encouraging energy-saving practices and this healthy atmosphere of competition also boosts teamwork, helps build relationships and increases general productivity.

Lead from the top

One area where many organisations fall down is by failing to do this. The onus is not only on employees to change their behaviour, but employers too. Management should be exemplars of best energy-saving practices, as leading from the front will inspire employees to follow. Not doing this, however, will lead to demotivation amongst the workforce. Why bother switching off the lights if the boss doesn’t do the same? Authenticity and transparency are key elements to a successful employee engagement programme.

Does your business have an employee engagement initiative?

If you have a question about this blog or want advice on how to save energy at work, get in touch. For more information on our energy services, do not hesitate to contact one of our team on 02920 739 540 or email us and we'll call you back.

Photo: Derek Gavey (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)