Sustainability is a fine balancing act; it demands a new lens for looking at people and organizations. Today, sustainability encompasses ways to enhance employee productivity and employee wellbeing, by creating exclusive experiences. Sustainable practices are no longer a good-to-do, they are a must-do for businesses.
According to a study by HP, 46 percent respondents indicated that they would only work for companies with sustainable business practices. An increasing number of job candidates are deciding whether to join an organization or not, basis its sustainability-approach. This trend is especially seen in modern-day millennials, who are more likely to work for a cause rather than for mere prestige, power and money. They do not shy away from speaking out against unsustainable practices. 44% of millennial office workers stated that, “if the company I worked for had poor sustainability practices, I would leave them a bad review to warn others (e.g. on Glassdoor)*.” As more and more millennials join the mainstream workforce, businesses must proactively reassess and revamp their business and people practices so as to be future-ready with the long-term view.
Trends in workplace sustainability:
Here are some of the key trends organizations have adopted in the past year, to become sustainable.
Workplace design: Workplace norms are changing, with companies fostering a more open and transparent workplace culture. As a result, open-office spaces, nature-inspired designs, vertical gardens etc are fast catching up in interior designing. A greener footprint is also known to help achieve higher satisfaction scores in quality of the workplace. In fact, lower CO2 emissions, better air ventilation and natural light improves productivity levels. Ergonomics has become a huge priority, with design infrastructure such as posture-friendly office chairs and wellness cubicles.
Wellness-and-wellbeing-focus: Companies firmly believe that a healthy, wholesome employee is a more happy and productive employee and are placing disparate focus on employee health, wellness and wellbeing. Benefits and offers related to physical, financial, emotional, etc. wellbeing have become commonplace. Simple measures such as stocking pantries and cafeterias with healthier food options, are making a difference. As lines between personal and professional lives blur, policies and programs for holistic wellbeing such as family management support, maternal and paternal leave policies, time-off, etc. are commonplace. Sustainable practices must understand employees real needs and cater to them.
Future-forward talent practices: To build a sustainable business, companies must effectively attract, engage and retain its top talent for the long-term. It is about enabling and empowering the employee of today, for high performance even tomorrow. Companies have become more open to new ways of working such as gig-working, remote working, flexible working, etc. Culture-building focuses on values such as openness, transparency, honesty, etc. A case in point is performance management, wherein the annual appraisal cycle has been replaced by continuous performance management, feedback loops, and two-way dialogue. Learning and development is revamped thanks to new learning technologies (mobile learning, micro learning, VR and AR etc.) and the importance of self-learning.
Energy-efficiency: Intelligently designed workplaces which leverage natural light, and policies & culture that discourages the use of high-energy bearings is just the starting point. Energy-efficiency was given a push with the introduction of LEED building certification- the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Today, we are seeing a host of progressive options such as water harvesting, waste and material recycling, composting, and direct purchase of renewable energy. HR is devising policies, guidelines and education-drives to create energy-awareness amongst employees. Energy-efficient outlook is a win-win for all since it incurs a significant cost-advantage.
Social responsibility: CSR has always been an integral part of business functioning, yet how it pans out has matured. Rather than being relegated to a different “wing”, corporate social responsibility is occupying prominent space in the boardroom. Right from managing ESG (environmental, social and governance) risks, to fostering D&I (diversity and inclusion), employee and shareholder expectations are shaping CXO outlook. The rise of millennials has been another contributor, there is now growing trend for companies to craft their corporate social responsibility strategy around their employees’ passions, rather on their external brand reputation.
Investment sustenance: The startup-world has given rise to many new opportunities, yet funding draw-outs have abounded, for various reasons from lack of performance to lack of sustained purpose. Sustainable funds are more likely to be top-performers. Naturally, the future will see the rise of “impact investing”, wherein investors carefully select ventures/stocks to invest in based on how it positively it supports sustainable efforts such as climate change, social welfare, etc.
Some 85% of individual investors, and 95% of millennials are interested in sustainable options- Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing
Investors are increasingly evaluating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.
In 2006, when the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) was launched, 63 investment companies with $6.5 trillion in assets under management (AUM) signed a commitment to incorporate ESG issues into their investment decisions. By April 2018, the number of signatories had grown to 1,715 and represented $81.7 trillion in AUM. As of 2019, the number stands at 2730 signatories. It indicates the shift towards sustainable investing.
Clearly, the winds of sustainability are blowing strong, forcing business and HR policy makers to proactive change direction. It is important to understand that long-term business continuity does not come easy, it requires futuristic vision. A participative approach, where employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and all stakeholders join hands, is the only way to build a sustained view for creating sustainable workplaces. Today’s leaders must take a cue, they must not limit themselves to the short-term-gain and must envisage the businesses of tomorrow.
Image credit: Irene Rinaldi