/ 19 July 2023

Why keeping the traffic lights on is good for employee engagement

Photography By Jeremy Glyn For Waggener Edstrom Worldwide In February 2020
Sarah Gooding is Managing Director at WE Communications South Africa

Local companies may be missing a major opportunity for employee engagement in their quest to go green, according to WE’s latest research

Those of us who have experienced Joburg traffic during load-shedding understand just how clever it’s been for companies like Investec and Vodacom to offer up their generators to power key intersections during power cuts. Not only have these brands been able to solve a key challenge within their respective communities, but they’ve done so in a way that’s very visible to clients and even more importantly their employees, who previously would lose valuable time queuing at those exact lights every morning.

As a brand’s most powerful advocates, employees can play a crucial role in shifting the needle, helping their companies win over the hearts and minds of consumers by driving greater awareness about socially responsible initiatives that are already happening — whether it’s keeping the lights on, or delivering on other ESG goals and sustainability initiatives.

This is critical for companies that are under greater pressure than ever from customers to provide solutions to societal challenges in general and sustainability challenges in particular. Especially since the expectations from local consumers are particularly high in this regard — at times holding brands to an even greater standard than their global counterparts.

 But for employees to be engaged in green initiatives, they first need to become aware of them.

WE’s latest study, Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue, reveals a major missed opportunity for the African organisations blazing a trail in the sustainability space. Two out of three employees say they are not involved in (or even aware of!) their company’s sustainability commitments. However, most (78%) are interested in sustainability and have the desire to work on the company’s green goals.

This gap presents a significant opportunity for local organisations to use communications to bring employees into the conversation and show them how, as part of the company, they are making a sustainable difference.

Here’s how brands can utilise their strongest audience — their employees — and turn them into advocates for their ESG goals:

  • Let them know that their efforts are essential to the company’s sustainability progress. An effective communications strategy should position the organisation’s sustainability promises and progress as the DNA of the brand. Employees should know that any work they do for the company, whether in finance or marketing or sales, contributes to those sustainability promises. Transparency in communications is key to illustrating how every role plays a part in a company’s success. Communications should make each department aware of how their work is contributing to the forward movement of the brand and therefore its ESG goals.
  • Get them involved from start to finish. Companies need to give employees a seat at the table — or better yet, let them sit at the head. This could involve asking people to suggest a cause to support or pitch a plan for how to allocate resources. If employees can play a larger part in the company’s sustainability investments, they’ll feel more included and therefore more engaged. Including them in the process, and taking their input into account for key decisions, will not only demonstrate trust but prove that leadership is listening.
  • Show, don’t tell, the impact of their efforts. Brands can communicate the real, physical difference their work is making in the community by showcasing their progress. It’s important to share stats, pictures, testimonials and stories about the communities key projects are impacting. WE’s research shows audiences are more sceptical than ever about purpose-washing, and they expect assurances that brands are actually delivering on their values-led commitments. It’s important for companies to properly communicate their impact and prove their commitments to their ESG goals are real. That’s what will inspire team members to keep moving forward.

From employees to advocates

Power cuts aside, it’s no secret that African companies face a long list of operational challenges, which can make it seem we don’t have the bandwidth to prioritise sustainability. But a study by the World Federation of Advertisers shows that more than half of African companies are taking positive sustainability action, compared with an average of 38% globally.

Companies like Investec show us how solving operational issues and sustainability challenges can be one in the same. Brand awareness starts at home — if organisations can show their employees how the company is doing good and engage them in that process, they’ll see the tables start to turn on how their efforts are viewed externally. More importantly, their work will have a great impact. Working in tandem with employees, there is no limit to the number of lives they can improve.

— Sarah Gooding, Managing Director at WE Communications South Africa