Wellbeing at Work: A Cornerstone of Sustainable Business Practice

March 21, 2024

Karen Deignan, Co-Founder of SustainabilityWorks on the connection between employee wellbeing and wider corporate sustainability.

Sustainability is a hot topic in today's business world. In practice, it is a broad agenda that encompasses a range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics that companies need to manage. Featuring high on the priority list, for almost all companies, is the topic of employee wellbeing. It is typically one of the key focus areas you find in the social or ‘S’ pillar of a corporate sustainability strategy. While this is not surprising, what is perhaps less well understood is how inextricably connected employee wellbeing is to broader sustainability, in more ways than one. Here I highlight five of the most fundamental connections.

1. The Connection between Purpose, Sustainability and Wellbeing:

When an organisations’ purpose (beyond profit) is clear, employees feel motivated because their work has meaning. A sense of meaning in turn helps to create a sense of psychological wellbeing. Purpose-driven companies often have strong sustainability credentials too, and they take a firm stance on environmental and social issues, further adding to their credibility as a business that’s a force for good. This combination of purpose, sustainability and wellbeing is a big part of what helps purpose-driven companies attract and retain top talent.

2. The Connection between Environmental Sustainability and Wellbeing:

The connection between environmental sustainability and wellbeing works on a few different levels. First, there is the effect of our surroundings on our physical and psychological wellbeing, with natural elements like sunlight, greenery, and water features not only enhancing the visual appeal of workspaces but also playing a vital role in reducing stress, boosting creativity, and improving overall mental health. Biophilic design seeks to maximise this positive effect and design buildings and spaces inspired by and connected to nature. Second, there is the effect that being active has on our wellbeing and our carbon footprint. Companies that encourage active travel to work – cycling or walking – can help employees lower their carbon emissions while boosting their fitness and health.

3. The Connection between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Wellbeing:

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are an integral part of most companies’ sustainability strategies. By embracing DEI principles, companies create environments where every individual is valued and feels a sense of belonging. Fostering a culture where people can be themselves, where diversity is celebrated, and where there is fairness and equal opportunity undoubtedly has a huge impact on employee wellbeing.

4.  The Connection between CSR and Wellbeing:

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, particularly when they create opportunities for employees to volunteer and give back to their local community, can positively impact wellbeing. Research indicates a strong connection between employee happiness, engagement, and the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to social and environmental causes. In this way, CSR initiatives not only contribute to corporate sustainability goals, but also nurture a supportive and fulfilling work environment.

5. The Connection between Sustainability and Financial Wellbeing:

Financial stability is fundamental to our sense of security and wellbeing and sustainable businesses understand the importance of equitable compensation and financial empowerment. Whether it’s paying a ‘living wage’, or establishing an employee share option scheme, financial wellbeing is fundamental to being a responsible business and an essential foundation for wellbeing at work.

In summary

The connection between employee wellbeing and corporate sustainability is multifaceted, influencing various aspects of organisational performance and societal impact. HR professionals and leadership teams should be mindful of this and leverage the connections to enhance their employees’ experience at work and create a positive organisational culture.