Studies have shown that workers of all ages (especially millennials) want their jobs to offer more than a paycheck. This growing trend has caused employee engagement initiatives to come into their own.

The upshot is that we’re seeing clients and a host of other companies update their values, promote corporate responsibility, define their purpose, and measure their social and environmental impact. This is especially true for in-house efforts and the budgets that support them. The shift is upending the status quo where advertising is the bright, shiny object and employee engagement plays second fiddle.

At our agency, we have seen a sharp uptick in the number of companies looking for bold, differentiated campaigns aimed at employees—and willing to spend more money on them.

The trend can credit several influences:

  • The war for talent is on. Unemployment rates are near all-time lows, and the gig economy offers appealing alternatives to corporate life.
  • Candidates and employees are genuine in their pursuit of meaning. Improved transparency lets them see into workplace culture or investigate a company’s record on environmental and social fronts, and they’re making decisions based on what they find.
  • C-suiters are following the money. Nationally, surveys indicate that only about 34% of employees say they are engaged at work. That’s a lot of wasted resource, and there’s mounting evidence that strong values alignment speeds recruitment, boosts tenure and reduces direct labor costs.
  • Internal communications offer more control than external. As anyone likely to be reading this column already knows, traditional advertising has lost its power of ubiquity to deliver a single-minded view of the brand. Today’s media landscape leaves recruits and employees to piece together understanding of a brand from a wide variety of sources.

A new spin on traditional marketing approaches

Given all this, it’s in the company’s best interest to engage employees fully and deeply. To let them know the values they stand for. To articulate a purpose. To demonstrate their commitment to both. To show, not just tell, employees that they matter. And, notably, to use the tools marketers have long employed to gain the same outcomes from employees—commitment, loyalty, advocacy—that they’ve sought from customers.

More than ever, we’re seeing internal communications teams apply traditional marketing approaches—including audience insights, persona building, integrated marketing and owned-and-earned strategies—to build fully fleshed-out programs. What’s more, these programs reach far beyond the usual set of brand or values roadshows. It’s about purpose, diversity and equity, and even things like governance and ethics or employee health and safety.

If it matters to employees, it matters to employers

Companies are creating programs that support employees’ interests—and canceling ones that feel too corporate. Here are some examples:

  • Companies are using social platforms and other internal tools to encourage each employee to connect their individual purpose to that of the company by creating tangible ways to express it, live it, and connect with others who share the same passions.
  • We have seen companies build multichannel, monthslong engagement campaigns that run into the high six figures. That’s a lot of dough, but when you can truly craft and control the message, you may also have great results. One of our clients tripled employee participation and nearly eliminated single-use plastics at its offices worldwide thanks to a recent engagement campaign.
  • Today it’s common for companies or their foundations to match all gifts, not just those aligned with a corporate strategy. Many also exchange the traditional day of service for more free-form employee-directed volunteering.
  • More than ever, skills-based volunteering is the norm. Employees appreciate their employer’s support and gain deep satisfaction for contributing their expertise as they develop new skills while helping a cause they care about.
  • Gone are “death-by-PowerPoint” slide decks for sharing plans or building enthusiasm for the rollout of a new strategy. Important initiatives get serious attention, and executives are hiring creative agencies to build pitchlike presentations and coach them in delivery to increase the chances of success.

In the end, it’s all about the customer, who in this case is the employee. Build programs and content with their needs and interests in mind. When they feel seen and respected, engagement soars and empowerment follows.

That empowerment creates a sense of autonomy and purpose, resulting in the kind of resiliency that can keep your company strong through uncertain times.

A version of this article originally appeared in Ad Age.

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