First-class sustainability: How Royal Mail is leading the way on employee engagement

Employee Engagement & Behaviour Change winner at the Sustainability Leaders Awards, Royal Mail Group explains how it has implemented an ambitious, company-wide engagement programme to deliver sustainability success.

Just under a month has passed since the Royal Mail was revealed as one of edie’s Sustainability Leaders at a glittering ceremony at the London Hilton on Park Lane. The accolade recognised the postal service firm’s ability to grow the CSR knowledge of its people and engage them in improving the workplace, with specific engagement initiatives at a local level supporting the Group’s overarching sustainability strategy.

Over the past two years, Royal Mail has amassed 8,000 recycling states across its operations, aiming to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfill. To support the initial programme development, a focused environmental programme was developed to maintain regular communication with internal staff across all levels, with frontline staff involved in the design of waste posters.

The recycling scheme coincided with the creation of a monthly waste report, showing the monthly waste performance of individual sites. Local briefings and visual displays of monthly waste reports were also produced to frontline employees to maintain engagement.

David Waterston, the Royal Mail’s carbon programmes manager, says that clearly-defined objectives have steered the programme towards success, providing strong foundations for local sites to build upon when they look at additional local improvements.

“We believe that employee engagement at all levels is key for driving our sustainability agenda across the business,” Waterston explains.

“Through the waste reporting, employees can see how much waste they diverted from landfill, how much they had recycled, and that just gives them the confidence and empowerment that what they’re doing has an effect. In a lot of cases, if they only see the national figures, it can be quite off-putting. But now they can see through the waste report that they are making a local, positive impact.”

The results have been extremely positive: by July 2016, 48% of Royal Mail’s 837 UK sites had diverted 100% of waste from landfill. Moreover, in 2015/16, the Group diverted 84.6% from landfill, equating to 4.4% above the overall target.

Employees have shown a desire to create 100% waste diversion, according to Waterston, who insists the Group are always looking at innovative news ways to reduce levels of waste. The firm’s Medway site in Kent, for instance, operates a composting unit so that employee can compost the food waste.

Waterston highlights the importance for employees to see how their activities directly influence both local and national waste performance. Indeed, the annual satisfaction survey showed that employee engagement had increased by 14% over the past four years. “We’ve got an improvement there,” he says. “Because they are seeing their local performance, it does give them the initiative or impetus to improve on their waste performance. There are lots of local initiatives that are coming through based on the fact that they can see their performance with the data.”

Sounding board

What makes the Royal Mail’s employee engagement and behaviour change approach stand out from the crowd is the empowerment it gives to employees. Ownership of improvement workshops is given to members who wish to promote their local best-practice, empowering them to drive change, rather than a “management controlled” environment.

Environmental pillar leads are empowered through a monthly forum which drives the changes needed to sustain improvements made. This can be seen in additional waste initiatives to continue improving the waste diversion performance, such as on-site LED lighting upgrades, and waste collection and redistribution schemes.

Meanwhile, an environmental champions network enables frontline employees to act as a sounding board for the Group’s sustainability initiatives. Waterston insists it is important to involve these champions throughout the projects to increase feel engagement levels.

He adds: “They can tell you what would or wouldn’t work, they can then champion it and become your voice locally, which is very useful in large companies such as ours. We can’t physically get around every site, but if these guys are positive about what you are doing because they are involved, they can champion that for you. They are a great sounding board.

“Because our champions are frontline staff, they are volunteers as such. They are passionate about the environment which is key, because if they are switched onto environmental issues and want to improve our performance, then being engaged in that way makes it a lot easier. They are our network. We are a team of three, so we can’t get around everywhere. Taking a business-partner approach we look to engage key stakeholders, not just at board level, but at a local level with the champions. They are very important to push through our sustainability strategy.”

Open environment

Environmental pillar leaders are tasked with identifying and driving energy and other environmental efficiencies at site level, with regular reporting on performance. Royal Mail rigorously audits the implementation of schemes across the business to help celebrate the success of all those involved. Meanwhile, achievements and best practices are shared through internal communication channels, including a monthly newspaper.

Waterston states that the business has changed to one that is more open, with employees across all levels working together to improve the workplace and reduce environmental impacts. But because leaders have day-to-day operational duties which often take priority over sustainability issues, this can cause a great strain on time and resources, says Waterston.

“That means there is less effort within an environmental initiative or programme,” he says. “Sometimes it takes longer than you would like to get something ready for deployment, and other times a local initiative may start to wane a bit and need more energy put into it through a national impetus. That’s probably the main challenge. We’re still trying to overcome that.

“Speaking to regional directors that control the operational resource is key. Making them fully aware of not just why we need the champions and their time, but we can emphasise not just their importance but highlight the rewards from the scheme. The external recognition through the likes of winning the edie award helps tremendously. It’s one thing to pat yourself on the back internally, but when you are recognised externally for the improvements you are making, it goes a long way to help reenergise the champions and provide a focus on environmental issues.”

Across all levels

The Group’s environmental management system has helped to embed ‘high-performance’ as standard, providing opportunities for enhancing employees’ training and skills, according to Waterston. He asserts that the system aims to generate a sense of pride and opportunity in the workplace.

The improved waste performance has, in turn, led to improved leadership buy-in and awareness of key environmental issues, the carbon programmes manager says. With the overall environmental strategy overseen by senior leaders who approve proposals, review plans and drive performance, senior leaders have taken ownership of key issues within their functional areas, proactively enhancing environmental management within their strategies.

Royal Mail has plans to expand the engagement programme through 2017, with proposals in place to build on an elastic band initiative to reduce the littering of rubber bands among the workforce. Several awareness weeks will meanwhile aim to further educate staff on the need to reduce carbon and water.

With the Group’s employee engagement programme showing no signs of slowing in the near future, what is Waterston’s advice to other businesses about to embark on a similar behaviour change drive?

“Engagement has to be across all levels of the business,” he replies. “Look at how you can draw your senior stakeholders in so that you can influence their strategy and processes – we do that through our environmental governance board. Then, look at how you can drive improvements locally and have an environmental champion network. You can then use them to sound off anything you want to do nationally or locally.

“They can also feed up their issues and local issues which can be considered for national rollout. Frontline involvement is also very key – if you involve your champions within the project, they can be the positive driving force locally. They can communicate to their peers the benefits of and the reasons why something has come along and needs to be deployed.”

edie’s engagement month

The month of February has seen edie shift the editorial spotlight to engagement, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the best way to bring the people you want on the journey with you.

From consumers to clients, investors to employees, ensuring your key stakeholders are on board and engaged can mean the difference between success and failure. edie’s engagement month explores some of the most effective methods being used to drive positive behaviour change.

Read all of edie’s engagement-themed content here.

George Ogleby

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