Saved from financial collapse a few years ago by good management, M&S is one of the UK’s most successful retailers and now it’s about to embark on an interesting new initiative. M&S has decided to try and halve its energy use over the next five years – largely by changing employee behaviour.

Can changes like this really be made effectively? The M&S team thinks that the key is to use multiple means of communicating with employees and to apply the personal touch. Simply announcing a new policy is not likely to lead to significant change, while rewarding employees for their efforts can be effective, however, many businesses find that it only works in the short term. Surrounding them with positive messages about changing behaviour can gradually lead to changes in their values, the key to sustainable improvement.

Most experts agree that employees are more likely to change their ways when someone has discussed the matter with them directly. This is partly about providing personal inspiration and partly about recognising that individuals in different roles will have to implement the change differently. A bit of help with working out how to do so can go a long way. What’s more, this can be appealing to employees because they can also identify ways of using less energy at home, something the M&S team has identified as a secondary benefit. This helps employees change their whole way of thinking about the importance of reducing fuel use, meaning that they’re far more likely to feel positive about changes at work and keep them up over the long term.

If implemented effectively in the first instance, changes like this can become self-reinforcing as what feels normal within the workplace changes. Employees will also carry their altered values with them to new employers, helping to encourage change that is more widespread.

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