It's become fashionable for companies to talk about sustainability. The world's biggest companies are disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions.
The future is now about recycling and building more energy efficient offices. Companies are planting trees. They are paying to offset their carbon emissions. And, many have pledged to reach net-zero in the future.
But here's another perspective on sustainability, provided by billionaire Herb Kelleher:
"Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy."
Perhaps putting employees first is the best sustainability strategy a company can have. Good employers can help a business thrive, regardless of whether there is climate change, war or recession.
It’s great that companies are focusing on protecting the environment, but there’s also a social aspect when looking after employees.
Wellness is good for business
When you have a highly motivated workforce anything is possible. That's why companies need to invest in improving the wellness of their employees.
The most obvious place to start is having a strong flexible work policy that is clear and fair. Surprisingly, many companies haven't managed to do this yet. Some have refused to change at all, while others have embraced flexible working loosely without an official policy.
Making flexible working official is not just good for a company’s employer brand, but it’s also great for wellness.
In Switzerland, during the lockdown working parents spent more time with their children. Pets had their owners at home. We had the flexibility to do the food shopping when we wanted. We could visit the mountains, go for a walk, ski during the week in winter or go for a swim in the lake in summer.
Switzerland never really experienced the same severity of lockdowns as other countries. Subsequently, many of us enjoyed newfound freedoms that we have never experienced before. Our quality of life improved from their already high levels.
But wellness goes beyond flexible working
To really understand what wellness means, you need to appreciate that it’s not just about physical well-being, but also mental well-being. If a company can improve both with their employees, they will not just increase productivity, but they will achieve this result sustainably over the long term.
Not only will they create a happier workforce, but they will also attract the best talent as well. Sustainability is not just about pledging to protect the environment or cut emissions. It also applies to keeping our hearts and minds healthy.
In many ways, Swiss companies have already excelled in promoting physical well-being in the office. Compared to other European countries, Swiss employees receive a lot of perks. Larger companies, often provide employees with healthy canteens. Gym membership fees are often provided or offered with an attractive discount. Sometimes even sports equipment is provided as part of an annual allowance.
Within the office, standing desks have become standard, along with ergonomic chairs. Daily fresh fruit bowls are also a common occurrence in many Swiss offices.
While Swiss companies have done very well to address the physical needs of their employees, they could do more to address mental health.
The world is now rich with data. The mental bandwidth of employees has subsequently shrunk. It has led to unhappiness, stress and poor decision-making at some companies. It is also the result of corporate culture, where workers feel the need to overwork to be seen.
There are some simple ways companies can improve the mental well-being of their workforce. The first, which is not so obvious, is to reduce the workload on employees on a per capita basis. The reason why this could be more productive is because employees simply have more mental bandwidth to do their jobs. This allows them to focus more on specific tasks and make decisions with a clear mind.
Sometimes doing less can actually help achieve more when it comes to working productively. There needs to be a cultural shift away from measuring the quantity of work produced, versus the quality delivered.
The office environment can also be mentally improved. Creating quiet spaces in the office for employees to escape can help. Another idea is to create more variety when it comes to workspaces. Some companies have now ditched the fix desk, in favour of laptops and a redesigned office for hotdesking. Here, workers can select a traditional desk for the day, or a pod, or a private office, or a table in an open breakout area, or even on a beanbag.
Wellness could be a game changer for recruitment
All of this boils down to employer brand. Taking care of your employees both physically and mentally is good for business. It keeps shareholders happy, but also helps retain talent and then attract new talent to the business.
It’s a fantastic recruitment strategy.