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Need Entrenched Employees to Get On Board With Sustainability? Here’s How.

A new sustainability program can be exciting for a company. But for many individuals who have been there for some time, it may be overwhelming. Often, long-time employees have entrenched views when it comes to how they operate in the office. Sustainability programs usually enact changes in how the office operates. Some changes, though well intentioned, may intrude on these employees’ comfort zone.

Usually, steadfast employees focus on the tangible effects of sustainability initiatives. They may not notice your company keeping track of its carbon footprint or investing in local charities. But you can bet that they will notice the printer consolidation and new recycling bins. It may be easy for those involved with the sustainability program to understand the rationale behind each project. Yet for others, these changes may be day-to-day inconveniences.

So how do you get them on board?  Like most other aspects of a sustainability program, communication is key. Employees want their company to do well and be competitive. Explaining how sustainability ensures a better future for the business helps put the program in context. One way to get this message across is to have management speak about the sustainability program at staff meetings. Having it be a standing agenda item ensures that there is open communication about the program. It also prepares employees for upcoming projects, so any changes won’t feel so sudden. Sustainability can also be integrated into employee meetings with supervisors. This allows employees to have direct dialogue about any concerns. Lastly, strategically placed signage that explains the benefits of changes can also help employees understand the motivation behind the sustainability program.

Even with careful communication, there will still be complaints. The best thing to do is to take these grievances seriously. To the entrenched employee, their concerns are both legitimate and a cause for anxiety. It is important to state, “I hear you, and understand what you are saying,” before explaining where you are coming from. Like the example of printer consolidation, it is not uncommon for sustainability projects to have benefits that aren’t felt by the individual. Engaging in a dialogue about the pros and cons of a project can help the employee better understand why things are changing, as well as help them see the collective benefits.

Another thing you can do is to anticipate concerns your coworkers might raise. Let’s stick with our printer consolidation example. It is easy to predict that certain employees who have had an individual printer for years would not want to give it up. Yet if this project is first presented in a broader context, it can be more successful. You might say, “each year, we print so many sheets of paper that if we stacked them up, it’d be taller than our building.” Then explain how printer reductions will address this issue. Demonstrate that there is a problem that needs correcting first, rather than focusing on how the negatives of the solution “aren’t that bad.” Predicting concerns and objections gives you a chance to frame projects in a more positive light.

Sticks-in-the-mud are never fun at any organization. Yet rather than steamrolling over their concerns, communication, empathy, and anticipation go a long way.