Employee Engagement and Retention

To thrive as an organization, it is vital that individual team members find their work meaningful and valued. Being a people-first company means not only best serving clients, but also supporting and uplifting internal team members. When employees are given the right conditions to thrive, it ultimately benefits the organization as a whole. A strong framework for employee engagement and retention begins with meaningful work that is bolstered by opportunities for growth, collaborative decision making, an inclusive workplace culture, and fair compensation and benefits. 

What keeps good employees?

Project Ownership
There are a number of theories on what makes employees find meaning in their work. One well-tested method is to give employees ownership over projects from start to finish (1). When someone is able to control each step in the process and carry a project through to completion, it is shown to positively contribute to one’s sense of purpose and dignity at work. Additionally, people desire autonomy far more than influence over others, and fulfilling that desire improves both talent attraction and retention (2). Sometimes, workflow is too complex to allow for full ownership from point A to point B. In this case, it is important for management to contextualize tasks as pieces of a bigger picture or risk employees feeling disconnected and their contributions insignificant. 

Career Development
Another important factor is internal workplace mobility and opportunities for career advancement. This can take the form of trainings, microcredentials, support for higher education, or increased opportunities for involvement in new projects. While upward movement is something employees desire, lateral mobility also adds value to the workplace (3). The opportunity to expand one’s skillset and engage with different parts of the organization provides employees the opportunity to be self-starters, improving morale while also benefiting the organization. Encouraging this type of entrepreneurial attitude in the workplace increases organizational cross-collaboration. Employees who have experience in multiple areas are more likely to take lead to find creative solutions that someone who is siloed into one role may not have thought of on their own. 

Contribution to the Decision-Making Process
Engaging employees in the decision-making process provides benefits to both employees and management. Employees feel valued and are able to voice their opinions on a variety of issues that impact their work, while management benefits from employees’ expertise derived from hands-on experience with a process, project, or task. The role of management is not to know all the answers to every problem, but to create the ideal set of conditions for each employee to perform to their utmost ability, which maximizes value for the entire organization (4).

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Shifting gears slightly, there is an important conversation to be had around diversity, equity, and inclusion as it relates to employee engagement and retention. Workplace culture can make or break an organization, and at this point, most have recognized the necessity and benefits of a diverse team.

However, what separates industry leaders from the rest of the pack is no longer diversity alone, but rather those who have fostered an inclusive workplace culture. The backbone of this is intentionality; workplaces that fail to intentionally challenge norms and create spaces for diverse thought will end up with unsatisfied and alienated employees (5). When employees feel compelled to adhere to certain workplace norms that do not align with their own background, they end up doing additional identity work unrequired by their peers, which some experts argue is a form of workplace discrimination that goes largely unnoticed (6).

Ways to overcome this include identity-based working groups, anti-harassment and discrimination trainings, diverse upper management, policies that honor all religious and cultural practices, accessibility measures for employees with disabilities, and established channels for anonymous feedback, to name a few. 

Compensation and Benefits
It goes without saying that the cornerstone of employee retention is fair compensation and benefits; however, if there is one major takeaway from this discussion, it is that compensation is not enough to create a thriving workplace. Ownership, growth, collaboration, and inclusion are all necessary aspects of employee engagement that cannot be considered mere window dressing.

Wrap it up and Take it Home

Recognizing that many organizations transitioned to remote and hybrid work models over the past year, it is worth noting that all of these factors can still be applied, and it is more important now than ever to cultivate strong employee engagement to help prevent feelings of isolation and alienation. A successful strategy can start with approaching remote and hybrid work as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Now, employees have flexibility in how they approach their workday. One study conducted in March 2021 found that people’s productivity at home was an average of seven percent higher than they expected. Employers should consider how the autonomy of remote work can actually encourage more positive ownership of one’s daily work responsibilities. This is a great opportunity for collaborative decision making.  

 3R can help you keep your Best People

A number of services offered by 3R can help your organization improve employee engagement and retention. A strong starting point is to set a baseline and forward-looking goals. 3R not only helps gather data for benchmarking exercises, but we can help identify what it is your company should be tracking. 3R’s team of expert consultants are well versed in ESG standards and rating organizations, such as GRI, EcoVadis, and CDP, so we can make sure your reporting data reflects current international best practices. On top of that, 3R can help lead stakeholder engagement through the development of surveys and interview questions to get a better understanding of your people, their needs, and desires. 

Once your company has a sense of where it’s at and where you would like to go, 3R can help write policies and establish procedures to make progress towards your goals. This can include the formation of new committees, a supply chain diversity program, diverse hiring policy, a whistleblower hotline, and more. If none of these options fit your current needs, 3R will work with you to create an employee engagement and retention strategy that is best for you. Ready to get started? Contact us Today!

Curious about employee engagement and retention efforts at 3R?

Learn more about our programs here

The importance of employee engagement and retention is something 3R Sustainability emphasizes internally, as well as with our consulting services to clients. Just this past month, 3R hosted an in-person team building and visioning day with accommodations for remote attendance. This included a Gallup Assessment of our strengths and weaknesses to better understand how our employees complement one another. These public sharing sessions were supplemented by anonymous feedback via an employee experience survey.

When it comes to our day-to-day activities, we try to be intentional in our communication channels. To help contextualize tasks as part of a bigger picture, employees at 3R work on project teams and can see the full list of project tasks at any point in time, a feature that is also made available to our clients to increase the transparency of our services. During team calls, we make sure to allocate time for a “temperature check” where everyone can check in on how they are feeling more generally, and there is dedicated time for feedback on project management decisions.

Training and development is another key priority of our team. A number of 3R employees have recently acquired the GBCI Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) credential. Not only did 3R reimburse those who took the exam, but management also organized collaborative study groups to best prepare our team members for success. Additionally, three of our employees received BREEAM AP credentials earlier this year. Senior leadership frequently shares articles and webinars to stay up-to-date on the latest industry developments. Most recently, we have begun incorporating regularly scheduled “lunch-and-learns,” where team members present on topics they are passionate about, taking advantage of the expertise each individual on our team has to offer.

Finally, we make sure to still include casual activities for everyone to enjoy. Whether this be a pumpkin carving competition, holiday happy hour, or events in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District, 3R makes sure employees have the opportunity to catch their breath and get to know one another in an organic setting.


  1. Belle Beth Cooper, The key to happiness at work isn’t money–it’s autonomy, Quartz (2016) Available at: https://qz.com/676144/why-its-your-call-is-the-best-thing-you-can-say-to-keep-employees-happy/
  2. Joris Lammers, Janka I. Stoker, Floor Rink, and Adam D. Galinsky, To Have Control Over or to Be Free From Others? The Desire for Power Reflects a Need for Autonomy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 42(4):498-512. (2016) Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167216634064?rss=1
  3. William Craig, The Benefits of Horizontal Vs. Vertical Career Growth, Forbes (2016) Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2016/02/13/the-benefits-of-horizontal-vs-vertical-career-growth/?sh=116814b77547
  4. Joseph Pistrui and Dimo Dimov, The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways, Harvard Business Review (2018) Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/10/the-role-of-a-manager-has-to-change-in-5-key-ways
  5. Jim Purcell, Intentional Workplace Cultures That Support Well-being, Forbes (2021) Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimpurcell/2021/02/04/intentional-workplace-cultures-that-support-well-being/?sh=1d0f79840bd5
  6. Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati, Working Identity, 85 Cornell L. Rev. 1259 (2000) Available at: http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clr/vol85/iss5/4