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Making an impact beyond the cause

14 May 2010

Effective employee engagement unites an organisation, says Forster's Lisa Mangan 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person working for a charity must be passionate about what they do.

Of course this passion waxes and wanes from time to time as it does for all people regardless of their profession; top stylists have bad hair days, pilots long to break free just once from their allotted route. Repetitive tasks and a limited change of focus take their toll. Yet another Christmas campaign theme to originate and 30 mile bike ride to promote? Is it really annual report time again? Are we still using Valentines Day as a hook? We’ve all been there.

HR plays its part, of course, as does a line manager’s ability to keep their team’s thinking fresh and develop their staff’s skill base, but what role can communications professionals play? Enter employee engagement. 

Creating a vision 

Employee engagement is a critical part of the communications mix for charities. More than just internal communications, effective employee engagement unites an organisation and demonstrates to the wider public that the organisation cares about its staff, and that its staff cares about the wider community. 

Take carbon reduction as a theme. Most people (climate sceptics apart) now understand that we live in a world of dwindling resources. For organisations large and small, cutting carbon consumption is a financial and legislative imperative; for charities it is an ethical desire. But how do we get there and take our staff with us? 

You need to create a vision for the charity to get behind and specific goals to work towards. You need leadership from the top to inspire people to get involved and signal the importance of the ambition. Then you identify the individuals within the charity who will champion the programme and make sure all teams are involved. Peppered throughout must be engaging, surprising communications and tactics to drive momentum. But, perhaps most importantly, you need rewards. Employees will move mountains if they can see the benefits both to them and the local and wider community.

Useful tactics 

Take Forster, for example. Environmental concern is in our DNA. We only work on sustainability and social issues; there are no exceptions. So, like charities, our employees are here because they like the fact that this communications agency has an ethical focus – it’s what sets us apart.  But even we realise that people need a bit of encouragement every now and then.

Just some of our tactics…

  • Everyone has carbon cutting written into their six monthly objectives.
  • We have company bikes which means we can cycle to meetings that are nearby.
  • The heating only comes on when temperatures plummet (there are Forster sweatshirts for people who suffer the cold!)
  • For every return journey to work made by bike, Forster gives employees 5 minutes holiday, which amounts to a potential 2.5 extra days a year.
  • We offer cycle training for novices, lunchtime cycle tours and competitions for greenest journeys.
  • Forster has a wormery and now grows its own herbs and veg.

The benefits to Forster are significant: not only has the company continued to cut costs year on year through energy reduction (and despite an expanding workforce) but we can genuinely say that employees feel inspired by what the company is doing and proud of the recognition it has achieved. Forster was voted The Sunday Times Best Green Company last year, which means that when it comes to advising charities we can be confident that we know our theory, in practice, really does work.

Crucial strategy 

So the benefits of effective employee engagement are two-fold: employees contribute to organisational objectives, and they contribute to the organisation. In doing both they feel that they are making a real contribution and making a difference that is valued. For the charity’s part, it demonstrates that it cares not only about the cause it exists to support, but its people and the wider environment too.

A charity’s success stands and falls on its reputation. More than any other sector, the third sector must be seen to walk the walk. If charities want to continue to be viewed as passionate inside and out, they must have an employee engagement strategy in place.

Lisa Mangan

media trainer and consultant, Freelance