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A Shift in Sustainability: From Environment to Employees

These days, it’s fairly common for businesses to focus on improving the sustainability of their products and practices. Whether it’s reducing water use, recycling products within the firm, or purchasing raw materials from responsible sources, this emphasis on not depleting natural resources and minimizing environmental harm is prevalent.

Increasingly, firms are now also considering what they can do to increase employee sustainability. I’m not talking about having employees invest in environmental sustainability causes the company supports (although that is a trend). Rather, I’m talking about the steps organizations take to make sure that their workforce is sustainable.

Work organizations can affect the health and well-being of their employees, and firms that attempt to improve these for employees so that they remain committed and motivated are investing in their employees’ sustainability. With America’s aging workforce and a shortage of younger qualified workers, making sure that employees can — and want to — contribute over time is important.

Factors impacting employee sustainability

I’ve written about burnout in previous posts — you can catch up here and here. One way that employers can help avoid burnout is by focusing on the sustainability of their workers and being aware of factors that have a negative impact in this area.

Some of the things that can damage employee sustainability are:

  • Layoffs

  • Lack of benefits

  • Lack of paid time off (e.g., sick leave, vacation time)

  • Long work hours

  • Low work autonomy

  • Bullying and verbal abuse

These practices lead to feelings of job insecurity, erode physical well-being, and increase stress. Research indicates that many of these also have adverse economic effects on the company, including a loss of productivity, an increased number of accidents, and higher turnover.

Investing in employee sustainability

So what can employers do to invest in employee sustainability? In addition to addressing the list above (i.e., minimizing layoffs, offering benefits and paid time off, reducing work hours, increasing autonomy, and eliminating bullying), there are a number of human resources practices that can help.

Consider implementing these ideas:

  • Increased investment in training and development

  • Flexible work hours

  • Telecommuting

  • Wellness programs

  • Fertility benefits

  • Phased retirement

  • Mandatory vacation use

While the research on some of these is mixed, there is evidence that many of these HR practices, when properly implemented, work to improve employee productivity, boost employee engagement, and reduce turnover.

Want to know more about how to address your particular employees’ long-term well being? Give me a call or send me an email!


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