Motivating models for 21st century employee engagement

Employee engagement is a buzzword that has been around for a long time, but what does it actually mean, and what are the benefits to organisations?

There are many ways an organisation can engage its employees.  This article explores both the theory and practice, especially in relation to the social side of sustainability. I’ll highlight two best practice examples from this vast galaxy of programs, initiatives, and missions, one from either side of the Atlantic, one a niche NGO and the other a high profile brand.

Whilst there are hundreds of definitions of this field, a particularly well- rounded one comes from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Engagement is: “being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to other”. They make a useful distinction between emotional engagement (driven by a desire to do more for an organisation) and transactional engagement (drive to earn a living and progress).An influential book in this field is Drive. The author Daniel H Pink looks at the science of motivation, and concludes that extrinsic ‘carrot and stick’ drivers are very 20th century. He encourages organisations to focus on three intrinsic motivators, or emotional engagement as defined by the CIPD, that can be summarised as autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Employee engagement connected to sustainability is, of course, particularly useful for boosting purpose as a motivator, as is demonstrated in the two case studies following. 

Engagement Benefits 

Whole books have been written on the benefits of engagement. To summarise, they are; employee satisfaction, productivity, retention and recruitment, innovation and profitability There is some very robust data to back this up.  For example, Gallup found companies with highly engaged workforces outperformed their peers by 147% in earnings per share, and had: ·      41% fewer quality defects ·      48% fewer safety incidents ·      37% less absenteeism In the competition for talent, it is key to offer a competitive salary and ensure people can grow in their role, but there is clear evidence that pay performance and job satisfaction are not highly correlated.  A meta-analysis of the literature in this area found only a 2% overlap between these two factors. There is now also increasing evidence that sustainability can help employee engagement. The 2013 book, “Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line“, found that initiatives created growth in overall employee engagement.  Interestingly, a ‘halo’ effect was generated as a strong programme raised engagement rates also for those who did not take part.  Furthermore, a global survey by Bain found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said sustainable business is extremely important to them. There is still progress to make, though. In the Ceres report “Gaining Ground“, they found that whilst more companies were utilising sustainability engagement, only 6% of companies were in what they termed ‘Tier 1’ for systematically embedding it. 

Taproot – inspiring intentional thinking 

For many, when we hear “pro-bono”, we think of law firms donating staff time. In fact, this term can refer to the donation of any service, and the US- based Taproot Foundation is an exemplar in this broader field. I recently had a conversation with Lindsay Firestone Gruber, their MD of Advisory Services, and was inspired by the work they are delivering to both provide social and commercial value and engage employees. “We work with our clients, both the corporates and non-profits who benefit from the skills share, to build the biggest impact possible. Taproot helps source and vet the organisations to ensure they are really ready.  It is very important to us to evaluate and better understand the impact we have on the NGO’s and the communities they serve.”  “There is a recognition that experiential learning opportunities can be much more powerful than classroom-based simulated scenarios. The employees of our corporate clients get to use their existing expertise in an unusual setting with a new challenge and different people. This stretches them in a way that really helps to take their engagement to a new level, and is often explicitly incorporated into talent development programmes. Whether the pro-bono project is one day for exec development or three months for high potentials, this all enables the employees to think intentionally.” Taproot’s programmes therefore not only support people’s intrinsic desire for purpose, but also help them in their mastery of their personal skills sets, two of Pink’s drivers. 

Warburtons – engaging communities and employees

The conversation with Michael McDermott, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Warburtons Bakers, was similarly stimulating.  As a business, they started out in 1886 with a corner shop, and are now the second largest grocery brand in the UK after Coca-Cola, employing 4500 people. Still owned by the Warburtons, it is clear the ethos of the family pervades the organisation. Michael enthused, “People are always looking at ways for business to gain value beyond salary and live the values to match our strap line, ‘From Our Family to Yours’.” Michael highlighted many areas where they are making excellent progress in sustainability, which could easily fill a whole article in itself.  An area, which seems particularly relevant to employee engagement is their community investment strategy, ‘Family Matters’. This is not just about passively giving money; it is a pro-active engagement with their communities, which has involvement of staff at its core.  From their ‘Community Service Volunteers’ to how they involve employees in choosing their national charity partner, the company is always looking at ways of engaging their people. Michael observed that everybody in the business, including the Warburtons family, were delighted when they were included recently in the Top 25 Best Companies to work for. In the area of ‘Giving Something Back’ they were rated particularly highly. It is possible that the company wouldn’t have got into this prestigious list without the excellent work they have done in this area.

It is evident, therefore, that this success is creating a virtuous loop which will keep building benefits both for staff, society and the business. I hope this brief, hyper-speed journey through the galaxy of employee engagement has given a glimpse into how organisations can benefit from implementing programs, and that the couple of quick stops made for a quick overview inspires employers and employees alike to become active in participating in this vital area of working life. 

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Bethany Fruen

Head of Communications

Bethany Fruen

Since joining Jump fresh out of university back in 2013 I’ve seen many changes in the way we communicate – both as a company and more widely within the sustainability industry. The current shift of sustainability to the mainstream is accelerating at a pace and it’s exciting to be part of this step change.  The insight I get from individual participants in our client programmes is invaluable as it helps me figure out the best way to get our messages across.

My team and I use digital communications to recognise individual and team success, providing information in a fun, meaningful way that encourages people to take action. It’s about creating a feedback loop where people see that their actions are having an impact and this is very powerful in creating positive change within an organisation.


Lawrence Mitchell

Change Management

Lawrence Mitchell

I am Chief Customer Officer of SumoSalad, former Chief Marketing Officer at RELX: Risk & Analytics and Founder of RAW Energy. Having worked in publishing for 20 years, living through the first phases of the digital revolution, I’m used to disruption, uncertainty and transformation. But through all of this, my belief in putting the customer at the heart of an organisation by leveraging data analytics has helped multiple brands innovate, evolve and transform. 

I’m a huge advocate for promoting wellness in the workplace which is central to our Jump mission, and created the award-winning RBI Living Well programme. Through my RAW Energy platform, I support business and community leaders to be more resilient, more authentic and more focused on wellbeing.  A regular contributor to marketing, customer experience and wellness forums, I’ve written three books including Success without Stress: How to Prevent Burnout and Build Resilience for Optimal Health & Performance. 

Mark Lance

Finance & Company Secretary

Mark Lance

I helped Graham set up Jump in 2011 and it’s great to be involved in such a dynamic, growing business where I can apply my specialism in corporate compliance to ensure we are meeting our statutory and financial obligations.  I am an associate of the Association of International Accountants (for whom I also act as a quality advisor) and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators. 

Alongside Jump, I’m a director of Cornhill Group, a corporate service business in London advising the boards of businesses in a wide variety of sectors including shipping, energy, media and aviation, and I’m also a director of a global energy trader. 

Rob Metcalfe

PR & Marketing

Rob Metcalfe

Alongside Jump, I’ve been helping clients get their message across for over 30 years,
most recently as chief executive of Richmond & Towers, the longest
established public relations consultancy in the UK.  A Chartered Marketer,
I’m increasingly helping clients frame their message around sustainability,
particularly in food, waste and energy. The Guardian once described me as being
the “evil genius who got us all hooked on avocados”, a claim I don’t deny.

Since helping Graham get Jump set up in 2011 I’ve enjoyed communicating about a
subject where there is a great willingness among companies and individuals to
do the right thing,  but understanding what practical action to take isn’t
always obvious. 

Graham Simmonds

Chief Executive

Graham Simmonds

As CEO of Jump I lead a talented team of professionals committed to sustainability and wellness.  For much of my 35 year career I’ve been immersed in environmental issues, particularly how to engage people in practical action.  Previously I built Trees for Cities from start-up to a global, award-winning charity as its founding chief executive, and I loved developing new initiatives such as The Edible Playground and the Million Trees Campaign.  

In 2011 I set up Jump as I felt organisations large and small want to motivate action amongst their people around wellbeing and the planet, and a professional team dedicated to this purpose would help them accelerate their journey.  I’m also proud to chair the Reward Gateway Foundation which supports organisations and projects that address inequality and disadvantage, with the ultimate mission of making the world a better, fairer, safer and more equal place to work.