Sustainable work: how to adopt an inclusive and motivating approach in the company

6 min

When we hear of a sustainable company, our minds often jump to environmentally friendly practices such as reducing emissions and waste. We seldom associate sustainability with social impact, yet this aspect falls under ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and is just as critical as the environment and governance. What’s more, it has a significant effect on profits and employee retention. What are the appropriate social practices for identifying a sustainable job? Let’s look at them together.

What is sustainable work?

Let’s start, as always, with definitions. Sustainable work is where attention is paid to fairness, inclusiveness, and the well-being of employees. This is achieved starting with recruitment, which should be transparent and aimed at promoting diversity. This is the only way to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, religion, or other personal characteristics.

People who join the company will have to find in their daily work the promises they made when they were hired. Work is not only about technical skills and technologies offered to achieve high productivity but also about the interest in employees’ mental and physical health, for one thing. Leaders of companies that focus on sustainability have a challenging task. In addition to the division of tasks and organization of work, they will have to understand what soft skills and unique characteristics allow each resource in the team to fulfill its full potential.

The employee will thus feel appreciated, at ease, and properly valued. Characteristics that will make them loyal to the chosen job. Let’s remember that, in many cases, work is a commitment that takes up a large part of our lives.

Once a favorable internal climate has been created, organizations with a strong commitment to social sustainability will also tend to extend their responsibility to the surrounding community, contributing to its development and general well-being.

This is because social sustainability is a philosophy that goes beyond profit that considers people and the community they belong to as central components of the business success equation.

Sustainable work

How to turn ordinary work into sustainable work? 

Good intentions leave much to be desired if they are not followed by concrete practices geared towards making a workplace truly inclusive and attentive to the well-being of employees. The spread of sustainable working practices increases companies’ profits and employee satisfaction.

Recent studies show that workers are more engaged and loyal when they believe in their employer’s commitment to sustainability. Furthermore, Gartner found that “when organizations offer radical flexibility, as opposed to providing flexibility only around when and where employees work, the percentage of employees defined as ‘high-performing’ increases by 40%”. What aspects should be focused on to ensure this outcome? Here are a few:

  • Healthy working environment: The right lighting, an ergonomic chair, a monitor at the right distance from the eyes may seem like unimportant details, but they help to make the workplace healthy and safe. Companies can choose to provide a good level of comfort or go above and beyond by creating leisure and relaxation areas that help employees reduce stress and return to productivity in a short space of time.
    Fair and equitable remuneration: One of the biggest motivators for talent to stay with a company is a salary that is competitive with the market. On the other hand, when we talk about fair treatment, we are not only referring to the salary aspect but also to the professional growth and development of the person. Resources should have the same opportunities within an organization, regardless of their origin, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. Organizations can promote fairness in the workplace by adopting merit-based pay and promotion policies, providing training and development opportunities for all employees, and addressing unconscious bias through awareness and training programs.
  • Well-being and work-life balance: It has been shown that employees are more productive when they alternate work with short periods of leisure. For this reason, it can be useful to implement psycho-physical wellbeing programs, which may include company gyms, meditation sessions or psychological counseling. In addition, employees’ free time should be respected by limiting overtime and promoting a culture that values work-life balance. It has been shown that achieving personal goals in addition to professional ones reduces stress and improves concentration at work. A big step towards a better work-life balance will be enabled by new technologies, especially those we fear the most, such as AI, which will instead help reduce workloads by increasing productivity.
  • Flexibility and the promotion of hybrid work: Fixed working hours are a legacy of manual occupations, which were once far superior to intellectual work. Those who work with their minds are not equally productive during the same hours. You may find inspiration or be more focused in the morning. Or, for some, productivity increases in the evening. Offering flexibility in working hours and workplaces, where possible, is one way to achieve better results. Of course, this would mean working to targets, which for some types of organizations is a much more important outcome than time. Companies that adopt hybrid working can truly be called sustainable, as this approach generates spin-off effects such as reduced carbon emissions associated with employee travel.
  • Diversity and inclusion: these aspects underpin a sustainable approach. The first step is to promote an inclusive culture that values and respects individual differences. Companies that promote an inclusive and diverse workforce also benefit from the different perspectives and skills that such resources can offer. What does it take to be inclusive? Open-mindedness, respect, and acceptance of differences. As mentioned above, action must be taken by implementing recruitment policies that promote diversity, ensuring equal opportunities for development, and creating teams that know how to stimulate special skills.
  • Ensure a stimulating working environment: Resources feel stimulated when they are recognized and rewarded for achieving goals. It is a mundane psychological mechanism but one that greatly increases motivation to work harder. Another incentive is the introduction of continuous feedback systems. This lets people know how they are doing and where they can improve. Finally, a great incentive is the opportunity for internal growth. A perspective that makes work challenging, with a view to transforming one’s profession from operational to managerial. Communication and feedback in environments aiming at sustainability should be reciprocal. It is, in fact, important that employees also provide feedback to managers and that they are informed and made aware of what is happening within the company.

By incorporating these practices into the corporate culture, companies can not only improve employee satisfaction and productivity but also attract and retain top talent.

Sustainable work offers a twofold advantage: on the one hand, it improves the reputation of companies and, on the other hand, it keeps people loyal, who, in addition to profit, also seek mental and physical well-being. Share on X

What are the benefits for companies of a sustainable work approach?

The benefits that employees gain from sustainable working are clear. What, however, are the benefits of such an approach for the company? Well, organizations gain benefits that weigh just as heavily as those offered to resources.

Sustainable work promotes corporate image and reputation. Every year, awards are given to virtuous companies in relation to social as well as environmental sustainability. The communication and marketing that is unleashed as a result of winning or placing first in the rankings increases the number of applications. Those who choose such realities are talents and experts who recognize the importance of their work and look for other benefits besides the purely economic aspects.

The impact of a sustainable corporate culture is also reflected in the improved engagement of employees, who not only become more engaged in terms of productivity but also remain loyal to the company in the face of new proposals.

Finally, organizations that adopt a sustainable approach experience an increase in productivity linked to the combination of the various factors mentioned above: increased employee engagement, reduced absenteeism, the attraction of top talent and a collaborative working environment.

This sustainable vision stimulates innovation, reduces costs by increasing efficiency, offers more accurate risk management and strengthens customer loyalty. No small benefit compared to the effort of adopting a sustainable approach. This creates lasting value for the company, the environment, and society.

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Sustainable workplaces: how much more needs to be done

The road to sustainable workplaces has seen significant progress in recent years, including an acceleration due to the pandemic, but it is still strewn with challenges. Companies have recognized the importance of adopting flexible working policies, promoting inclusion and equity, and reducing environmental impact. However, in practice, there are still cultural reticences.

Recent survey data from McKinsey show that a sustainable approach in relation to people is a necessity rather than a choice. Employees’ enthusiasm and attachment to their company is closely related to a sense of inclusion. In fact, almost 40% of the resources surveyed have avoided job opportunities because of concerns about inclusiveness. Many people experience micro-aggressions on a daily basis (84%), and many minorities face uncomfortable situations related to their identity. These numbers are not just statistics but stories of individuals looking for a place where they can feel valued and included.

Companies have a duty not only to recognize these challenges but to act decisively to ensure that resources are treated fairly and sustainably.