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In a recent interview with, a UK-based online publication covering sustainability in business, Unilever’s head of supply chain, Pier Luigi Sigismondi, revealed the CPG giant’s secret weapon for long-term environmental sustainability: employee engagement.

“We quickly realized that engaging with employees was the best way to make us sustainable,” Sigismondi told the publication. “It has not been something that we have had to push down from the top—we provided guidance, knowledge and inspiration and then it became a movement within the company.”

“We quickly realized that engaging with employees was the best way to make us sustainable."

- Pier Luigi Sigismondi, chief supply chain officer, Unilever

Sigismondi’s comments highlight the growing importance of employee engagement today. Unilever has ambitious plans to reduce its environmental and social impact, and the company knows that an open dialogue with its employees is key to achieving that goal and in maintaining its status as a corporate sustainability leader.

As Unilever demonstrates, there is growing appetite for more effective employee engagement. A 2013 Harvard Business Review report showed 71 percent of executives rank employee engagement as very important to achieving company success. However, the same report showed that only 24 percent of executives agree that employees in their organization are sufficiently engaged.

Tweet this!Only 24 percent of executives agree that employees in their organization are sufficiently engaged. - @harvardbiz (TWEET THIS STAT

Engaging employees is becoming a key competitive differentiator in business today. Employee churn has high business costs, and studies show that an engaged workforce increases retention and drives profitability. Getting your employees engaged isn’t just about providing a better work environment: it’s about improving business performance.

The importance of employee engagement will only grow in the future. Just like customers, employees today are empowered by technology and have access to real-time information. The empowered employee wants to be heard. This is particularly true for millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, who want to be part of organizations that listen to them and that make them feel valued.

Unfortunately, the way companies engage with employees isn’t in tune with the way business is done today. Many companies still rely on an outdated method to engage their employees: the annual employee survey. According to one study, 70 percent of employees don’t respond to annual surveys, and 29 percent think these surveys are pointless. Even more concerning is the fact that 80 percent of employees believe HR managers would not act on survey results.

Tweet this!80 percent of employees believe #HR managers would not act on employee survey results. (TWEET THIS STAT

The employee engagement survey of today isn’t working. It’s time for business leaders to rethink their approach. Here are five tips on how to improve employee engagement.

  1. Make employee engagement engaging.

Annual employee questionnaires are often cumbersome to fill out; they’re boring and they’re too long. As a result, employees have no motivation to participate. Companies can make participation mandatory, but if employees don’t find the activity engaging, companies could see skewed results.

The way companies engage their employees should mirror the technologies that people use to talk to their friends and family. It should be social, visual and mobile-friendly—things that annual employee surveys are not.

  1. Do it more often.

Given the speed of doing business today, getting employee feedback once a year won’t cut it. A better approach is to make employee engagement a part of your corporate culture. That means asking for employee input more frequently and more consistently. It means enabling constant conversation with your people.

More frequent engagement can make activities more fun for your employees. With a monthly or even weekly cadence, you could get away with shorter engagement activities. Instead of asking about a hundred different things, you could explore one issue today and explore another topic next time.

In the Twitter world, doing shorter but more frequent activities is more likely to engage your employees without compromising your company’s needs for deep information.

  1. Dig deeper.

Despite their length, most annual engagement surveys aren’t detailed enough. In fact, most of them touch on some very high-level topics like employee satisfaction. But if you’d like to truly influence workforce satisfaction, it’s critical to get people’s feedback on specific work-related issues. Don’t just ask whether they’re happy about their work—explore the factors that contribute to their satisfaction and learn why those factors matter.

To be able to dig deeper, however, companies can’t rely on traditional methods of engagement. Focus groups, for instance, could be helpful, but this approach is often inefficient and could only be done on an ad hoc basis. In addition to being expensive, focus groups encourage one-time, one-way interactions between a company and its employees rather than an ongoing dialogue that develops and deepens over time.

The most engaged employees are those who feel like they matter—those who have the opportunity to influence the direction of the business. Companies need to engage with employees more deeply and gain intelligence that will drive better business decisions.

  1. Use it to make changes.

After employees fill out annual surveys, engagement often ends there. They don’t know how—or if—the company used their feedback to improve the business. When companies don’t close the feedback loop and take action on survey results, employees don’t see the benefit of their participation, discouraging them from participating in the future.

Tweet this!When #HR leaders don’t take action on survey results, employees don’t see the benefit of their participation (TWEET THIS INSIGHT

If companies choose to share the results of the survey with their employees, it typically takes weeks, if not months. This is particularly true when an external organization is employed to do the survey. External market research companies need at least a few weeks to sift through the results and analyze the data.

Employees today want to know that their input matters. Sharing this information with them—and doing so on a regular basis—is critical.

Companies that share results with their employees still struggle with one critical issue: getting granular. An annual survey is not a conversation. It doesn’t allow you to react, ask follow-up questions and delve deeper. As a result, ad hoc employee surveys don’t help build your relationship with your staff.

For employee engagement to help increase employee satisfaction and decrease churn, it needs a more human approach—one that’s based on two-way conversations with your employees about the issues that impact their work life.


The need to get employee engagement right has never been more critical. The employee landscape is quickly shifting as Gen Z, the cohort after millennials, is starting to enter the workforce now. In fact, by 2020, the workforce of many companies will have up to five generations, each of which will bring different attitudes and worldviews. As the workforce becomes more diverse and complex, forging a closer relationship with your employees and effectively using their collective wisdom will become an even more valuable source of competitive advantage.

Want to gather employee feedback to drive change in your business? Learn how HR leaders generate results with the Vision Critical software

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