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Date posted: 17th May 2021

17th May 2021

Guest Blog: Sustainability at work. The ethical employee

Guest Blog: Sustainability at work. The ethical employee

According to a study by The Purpose Pulse, 71% of Millennial and Gen Z age groups see the climate emergency as the single biggest issue facing them. Meanwhile, 61% of the group felt that it was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ that companies take a stance on issues that matter to them.

We therefore see the emergence of the ‘ethical employee’ – someone who selects their employer, not just because of the size of their pay packet or a powerful company name, but because of its positive societal impact, namely its environmental efforts.

But what does this mean for organisations? Is there really a case for meaningful sustainability policies in the workplace?

The answer is “yes” – it’s an intrinsic part of employee wellbeing and, as such, you can expect all the same great benefits that you encounter when your employees are able to flourish at work. This can be unpacked in two ways.

  1. See organisational purpose as a driver for employee engagement. As also discussed in a previous blog, we know that a strong sense of organisational purpose will primarily benefit your organisation by generating good company culture and by attracting a wider, more talented pool of applicants. It therefore makes sense that focusing organisational efforts on combating the climate emergency via sustainability will be a great way to improve engagement, since we are already familiar with the level of significance that combatting environmental issues holds in the hearts of Millennials and younger generations; i.e. the next wave of talent. According to a Robert Half survey, which asked CFOs about how social responsibility programs helped their organisations, 71% said these programs helped to increase employee morale and 60% said they enhanced recruiting and retention efforts.
  2. Look more closely at the concept of sustainability. If we are to look at the definition provided by Forum for the Future, “Sustainability […] enables all people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life,” this really resonates with the framework we use for wellbeing at Barnett Waddingham, which is centred around unlocking human flourishing in the workplace, oftentimes referred to as Eudaimonia.

Our own approach to wellbeing requires us to consider it holistically, meaning that we work to consider all the of the factors, both inside and outside of employees’ work-lives, to understand how they can become happier and flourish as an individual, which of course results in organisational benefits as a result. Therefore, it makes sense that a powerful wellbeing approach would naturally consider the environmental and sustainability concerns that employees might have and build this into an organisation’s strategy and solution.

The new wave of environmental demands

What’s perhaps an even more interesting and compelling argument for sustainability in the workplace is the “Greta Thunberg effect” – a phrase which summarises the new wave of environmental demands that are being made across the world. This renewed environmentalism has driven almost a fourfold increase in investment from businesses and individuals in organisations that offer carbon-offsetting or carbon-reduction projects. Additionally, Extinction Rebellion has also seen environmental successes; only weeks after their protest efforts in April 2019, the UK government declared a climate emergency, as well as announcing a target to have carbon emissions of net-zero by 2050.

Whilst it isn’t necessary for an organisation to become involved in an environmental revolution, they should be considering the long-term implications of an environmentally-focused society for business. If consumers and employees alike continue to make their decisions on the basis of sustainability, then organisations should start shaping their employee propositions to meet those demands sooner rather than later.

As an extract from HR Magazine summarises, “if businesses want to continue to attract the best talent, they will have to put action on climate change and social purpose at the heart of what they do.”

What can organisations do?

Look towards sustainability focused employee benefits.

Employee benefits are a great way to begin incorporating sustainability into your employee proposition. They are an effective and attainable approach for really engaging those employees who are looking to focus on sustainability in their lives, as well actually being capable of generating a meaningful and practical impact. By comparison, addressing an organisation’s operations and supply-chain can be incredibly complex and take significantly longer to mobilise. So looking towards flexible benefits is an excellent starting point.

A sustainable benefits offering means that your employees will be able to personally select the benefits that appeal most to them, and so those with an environmental inclination can have their needs met, whilst the opportunity to make other selections is not forfeited. In turn, this also helps satisfy your employee wellbeing efforts, since you are offering the opportunity and flexibility to provide support in a way that works best for them.

The chances are that your organisation will already offer some form of benefits package. Have you considered taking a look at the existing benefits your organisation has to offer and seeing if they can be re-communicated with a focus on sustainability?

For example, a cycle-to-work scheme is known for helping employees save money and contribute to their health through additional exercise, but there is also the consequence of saving on carbon emissions. Similarly, a car leasing benefit may be well established in your organisation, but could you make employees aware of the option for an electric vehicle, as a means of building sustainability into their day-to-day life? Maybe your organisations offers each employee a volunteering day. Could you encourage them to consider using this on an environmental cause?

There are also a number of new benefits worthwhile to consider. Carbon offsetting takes the stage here. There are a number of initiatives which will allow employees to offset their carbon footprint through a means which is Gold Standard approved. Others ways to include sustainability in a benefits package could be through access to renewable energy suppliers, options to contribute to re-forestry initiatives, discounts on sustainable brands, and more.

Extending your Benefits in this way may seem expensive. However, it’s important to remember that the National Insurance savings which result from the uptake of a benefit-in-kind can actually end up saving your organisation money, not to mention the tangible, positive effects of having an engaged, well cared for workforce.

A meaningful benefits package can make a significant difference to the employee experience. So incorporating sustainability into this really does make sense. As the cause of environmentalism continues to gain traction and the importance of looking after your employees remains clear, there’s never been a better time to make this happen.

If you would like to talk to us about sustainable benefits, please do not hesitate to get in touch by contacting [email protected]. You can also visit Barnett Waddingham’s employee benefits and wellbeing hub here.