Spotlight on Patagonia: core values key to employee engagement

Andrew Heath · February 14, 2019

Best known in the US for its colourful fleeces and wardrobe-staple backpacks, Outdoor apparel maker, Patagonia, has also been making waves in the world of business ethics and employee engagement.

Impressive core values run right through the business. As a result, Patagonia has a reputation for both customer and brand loyalty. Employees and consumers love what they are doing. Business success and a remarkably low employee churn are testimony to their success.

In this blog I take a look at how Patagonia’s core values are driving employee engagement.

What are Patagonia’s core values?

Patagonia’s mission statement (and reason for being) states “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia’s values include transparency, collaboration and improvement.

Patagonia started as a small company making tools for climbers and has grown to a worldwide business also making clothes for the outdoors. Values were steeped into the business at the outset – they only make clothing for silent sports, such as skiing, surfing, fly fishing and trail running. They donate at least 1% of sales to environmental groups all over the world. They recycle polyester and only use organic cotton.

How do core values impact employee engagement?

One of Patagonia’s biggest insights is that culture matters equally through good times and bad. Employee engagement and core values aren’t something that get switched on when finances are in good shape and the market buoyant.

While research overwhelmingly supports the idea that business success is dependent on employee engagement, many organisations are reluctant to make the investment. I guess that’s why head of shared services at Patagonia, Dean Carter, calls the firm an ‘un-company.’ Patagonia is a fabulous example of how core values can drive employee engagement and business success.

So, what are Patagonia’s policies that support employee engagement? Perhaps Patagonia’s biggest success story when it comes to culture and employee engagement is its belief that employees shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family and work. The business spends around $1 million every year subsidising onsite childcare facilities for employees.

Why did they decide to make the investment? Carter explains, “We did it because we want to allow parents to bring their whole selves to work” and also so that when a parent or nursing mum comes back to work, they can be together with their child at any time.

The policy has enabled mums (and this remains at 100%) to return to work after maternity leave. It has also encouraged equal responsibility between mums and dads in raising their children.

Patagonia are passionate about the outdoors and actively encourage employees to pursue a sport they love. Employees are allowed to be out in nature or surfing any time they want. An internship programme pays for employees to work for up to two months for a non-profit environmental organisation of their choice.

As a clothing manufacturer, Patagonia works with factories and textile mills. Patagonia is one of an increasing number of businesses taking the issue of corporate responsibility seriously. All Patagonia products are produced under safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions throughout their supply chain.

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In 2014 Patagonia developed a commitment to Migrant Worker Employment Standards after learning that migrant workers in Taiwanese mills were having to pay steep recruitment fees to get a job.

This is a company that genuinely cares about the environment and its employees. This is reflected in every aspect of Patagonia from its core values to its everyday operations. Last year Patagonia announced they were giving away $10 million in unplanned cash in response to irresponsible tax cuts, which only benefit the oil and gas industry.

Patagonia relish feedback from their employees and use frequent employee engagement surveys to gather data on morale. Carter, who previously ran HR at Sears, said in an interview with Fortune, “what you want to watch out for is change. If someone has been weighing in often, or regularly, and then suddenly stops, that’s when you might have a problem.” In his experience, Carter says holding on to key talent requires a commitment from companies to capture the voice of the employee.

Employee Engagement Guide