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How Promoting Cause Can Reduce Employee Turnover – Noteworthy

Braven Greenelsh

As a leader who has been on the ground floor of 6 ventures, a non-profit, and a justice movement, I can say that leadership is truly an art form. But no matter how you choose to define leadership, it is how we lead people that matters most. How we empower our people, and how we continue to engage them, is critical to our success and the future of the world in which we live.

If we plan on retaining employees at a company just because we are making money, then we are not asking ourselves the right questions. In his book Like a Virgin, Richard Branson wrote, “if you start a company just to make money, you are going to fail.”

This can also apply to established companies. In short: if there’s no heart and soul to why you work at a given company; no connection to your personal story or your passions outside of work, then we can apply the same principle to employee turnover. Below, I offer some compelling reasons why Branson’s statement applies to why employees stay at a company.

Ever since Millennials started to climb the ladder of entry-level positions to upper management, we have seen a growing sensibility to cause-oriented workplaces. This is a generation unlike any before it. A generation that has learned from the mistakes of the past and is adapting to ensure we make things better now. Not just better for the company we work at, or for ourselves, but better for the entire world. And not just economically, but sociologically and ecologically.

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That’s why new buzzwords like “employee engagement” and “cultural development” remain hot topics of discussion among business leaders and HR professionals.

For us to understand just how important employee engagement is, it’s best to look at it through the lens of employee well-being. Hopefully, you’ll be able to glean some simple, but important insights on how to better impact your current employee base, make a change for the better, and even start to reduce your churn!

A study conducted by Gallup on well-being identified 5 key areas for employee well-being:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

Respondents that were physically well fit, but didn’t score high on the other 4 areas, showed a decrease in work attendance. In fact, those employees missed 68% more work than employees scoring evenly across the 5 attributes of well-being.

In an era where retention matters, these numbers should get our attention. I mean, really grab us by the throat! Being in shape isn’t the only factor here.

This shows us just how critical cause is in the workplace. Let’s look at three of the five attributes: Purpose, Social, and Community; all three are defined as attributes of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). And they should essentially integrate directly with your company’s mission and core purpose.

So why is this important? Because companies that focus efforts on triple-bottom-line impact have proven to do better. Better than the old traditional corporate model that’s exclusively focused on revenue growth.

What is the triple-bottom-line impact? If you are thinking about how to engage your people on issues like social engagement, community outreach, and ecological impact — you’re headed in the right direction. So if you want to be a relevant fit for your next batch of recruits, you’d better expand your definition of employee wellness to go beyond just a free gym membership or yoga class. Focus on the three aspects of well-being that matter most!

A recent Deloitte study on the future of human engagement in the social enterprise by Erica Volini and Jeff Schwartz stated, “Nearly half of employers reported their organization was not effective at creating meaningful work or a positive work environment.”

Bottom line: cause — not profit growth — is the basis for better, happier, and healthier teams!

It’s also a primary factor for why employees stay at a given company. In fact, 90% of employees looking for a new job — generation agnostic — are looking for a better employee experience.

A job at a company they will be proud to talk about with their family and friends. A company they feel is thoughtfully making a change for good in the world in addition to offering a great product or service.

So what do I mean by “Cause”? Given what we’ve learned from the employee well-being study above, Cause can be defined as:

“A Company’s purpose attached to tangible symbols that defend and reward employees who make a positive impact in the world outside of work.”

Below are three easy steps to better engage your people around mission and cause and subsequently reduce turnover:


Do this through internal branding. And no, plastering a laminated poster in the breakroom that lists your mission, vision, values, is not enough! It is actually worthless. What you need to do is audit your mission, vision, values. Make sure they are real values. Identify the values that are aspirational. And once you have them, create symbols to attribute to each one. These symbols can be as simple as an employee of the month rewards/badges/framed portrait in the foyer. But some are more creative. And often more effective.

Even though Tony Hsieh is credited for really centralizing culture and connecting it to a company’s mission, it was first with Patagonia that we saw leaders pushing the envelope when it comes to integrating a holistic sense of mission through cause and planet stewardship. They have created a powerful way to integrate their core ethos into the heart and soul of the company culture.

Here’s how it works: At Patagonia’s corporate HQ, they have a big screen in the reception area displaying the surf report. It’s a physical symbol of how much they value the earth, but it also communicates that for them, play is just as important as profitability. This is not just a PR stunt. They actually have a policy that if the “surf’s up” you can cancel any meeting and instead go to the beach to paddle out and catch a few waves. It’s called a brand symbol. And it’s rewarded above all else. Yes, even sales quotas. And because it’s not only rhetoric but actually instituted and backed by the company’s leadership team, it gives employees a sense that the purpose communicated in the mission vision values and the employee orientation event is actually real. Now you know why Patagonia’s turnover rate is so low!

Brand the heck out of your core purpose or brand promise. By creating an internal brand that supports the Brand Promise, or in some cases is the brand promise, you will drastically impact employee engagement and organizational growth. Recently my agency completed a Brand Promise exercise with Civic Financial Services, a fast-growing, private-money lending firm. The company already has great leadership and strong employee engagement. But they wanted to take it a step further and ensure the recent corporate rebrand was fully internalized across all departments and office locations. So with the help of CIVIC’s marketing department, La Visual created an internal brand to help them attach real symbols and rewards for employees to own the mission, vision, values, and follow through on the Brand Promise. It’s no wonder they have weathered the storm of the current economic downturn well in the face of insurmountable odds. They have good people who have identified with the brand enough to want to stick around for awhile.

©La Visual, Inc.

Understanding where people are isn’t easy. Something we’ve been doing for years is an exercise called Meeting without Walls. Ask your employees 10 critical questions around purpose, brand, and cause. Print out 18×24 posters (10 copies each) and velcro a Crayola marker to each. Make sure you announce this exercise ahead of time, making it safe. Then put the posters everywhere. I mean everywhere. In companies driven by more traditional cultures of executive leadership, fear is prevalent and most of your people won’t be honest. So put the posters up in both bathrooms. That’s where we’ve gotten the best feedback. And leave them there for two weeks! You’ll need executive sign-off on this. And expect pushback. But creating safe conversations is worth it!

Market the main cause quarterly: create fun ways to engage people around the cause for a given quarter by offering a point system, and reward them with badges to honor those who volunteer the most with a matching contribution in cash, points, or PTO. This is also a simple way to build employee expectations for how Cause initiatives are valued and rewarded in the workplace. It’s also a great way to garner alignment and create unity across a diverse team that has passions that differ. And with the help of apps like Bonusly and Three Good, you can always rotate the cause monthly and change up the reward on the fly to keep things dynamic.

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