When talking about sustainability, we quickly think of the environment. However, corporate sustainability concerns itself with multiple stakeholders: the environment, society at large, investors, and their recipients, as well as the organisation’s employees.

When referring to a company’s workforce, we often talk in terms of attracting and retaining the best talent, ensuring that staff remains inspired to do their work and are engaged within the multiple aspects of the company.

Research tells us engaged employees are not only more productive, but their level of engagement also has a positive effect on customer loyalty.

If you need to ascertain the research, go to your local library, access ProQuest and search for “employee engagement and productivity.”

After 20 years in the workforce as an employee and multiple years on the customer service side, I believe these conclusions. Although I am not a fan of words like “engagement,” I agree with the wider concepts.

However, today’s perspectives have changed so much – and we have the Internet to blame for this.

Here’s a case in point.

Twenty some years ago, I worked for a photo imaging company (Eastman Kodak) in Canada. The nature of our business was such that we were asked constantly to donate time, equipment, and products. Because I worked in digital photography and was a technical support employee, the company frequently “offered” my services, as well as those of many of my colleagues.

I did not mind it at all – I was always happy to volunteer for whatever task, event, or organisation.

We did a lot in those days. Being in photography, there was always the photo in the local community newspaper. No Internet to broadcast our good deeds, but we did not need to. We felt quite good about it, and that was sufficient.

Today, we tell all: We broadcast everything and we share everything. The entire world can know what we’ve done, which country we visited, which restaurant we ate at, which movie we saw, and so on. I find it nauseating, but it is what it is – a different world.

In December 2013, WestJet Canada created a video entitled WestJet Christmas Miracle: real-time giving. It chronicled the company’s second Christmas event in which 250 passengers landing in Calgary received the present they requested from Santa Claus before taking off from a different city. Planning had started in August, and the event involved about 150 employees.

See the video to get the full picture. At the time of writing this blog, the video was nearing about 35 million views. 

Nowadays, when people do a good deed, share it via YouTube, and watch it become a viral success, many commenters dismiss it as a publicity stunt. The Ebenezers of this world are indeed quick to cry out “Bah! Humbug!” at the top of their lungs.

Understandably, many of us have become jaded by Internet feel-good advertising that plays on sentiment.

However, here I am focusing on employee engagement — not to avoid the other aspect of the publicity this generated — but rather to talk about something I feel quite strongly about. It is best expressed by a series of comments on the National Public Radio Web site.

While most comments focused on the public relations (PR) or advertising aspects of the WestJet event, these comments focus on the employees.

One has to understand that 87% of WestJet employees are also shareholders. Whatever costs this event involved — including employee time, gift purchasing, planning, and incredible logistics (I am still amazed they were able to pull this off) — the employees were also indirectly pitching in to cover the costs.

To me, this is what makes this event different from regular PR stunts. People looked at the video and most commented on it positively, because it felt genuine.

I say kudos.

Do you have an employee engagement activity you thought went well? Share it!