The link between sustainable business practices and employee well-being

Building a sustainable business and dealing with stress, anxiety and other mental health problems in the workplace are usually seen as two separate projects. In fact, these initiatives often go hand in hand, as business practices that are good for the environment often also seem to improve the well-being and mental health of employees.

ECO-ANXIETY: THE NEXT CURRENT WORKPLACE PROBLEM

In 2021, the American Psychological Association published a study on climate change and mental health. The study found that climate change and its effects can lead to “increased feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or fatalism and intense feelings of loss.” Climate anxiety or eco-anxiety is particularly high among younger adults (aged 18-34); nearly half (48%) identify it as a source of stress. Although environmental anxiety may not seem like a problem in the workplace, it is fast becoming one.

In 2021, a study by the World Economic Forum found that 59% of employees who leave their jobs leave to join an organization that is more in line with their values. There is reason to believe that sustainability is a major concern for many employees on the go. A 2021 IBM survey found that a majority (71%) of employees view environmentally sustainable companies as more attractive employers. These findings suggest that making sustainability part of the core business proposition can be not only good for the environment, but also potentially good for employee and business well-being.

Employees want and even need to work for organizations that embrace their values, which increasingly include sustainability. Given the evidence that taking action against climate change (ie being part of the solution, not the problem) also seems to have the potential to alleviate environmental concerns, it follows that organizations that adopt sustainability can also help reduce employee stress and anxiety levels.

REMOTE WORK, SUSTAINABILITY AND MENTAL HEALTH OF EMPLOYEES

To say that you support sustainable practices is one thing. It’s different to talk about everything you do. Small steps (such as starting or more rigorously implementing an existing workplace recycling program) can help. But with more employees holding leaders accountable, the walk is likely to take more than diverting office waste from landfills. One possible solution is to assess the potential environmental and health benefits of constantly adopting some form of remote and hybrid work.

In terms of environmental impact, remote and hybrid work can bring many benefits. In addition to eliminating the carbon emissions associated with people’s daily travel, remote and hybrid work can also help build more sustainable businesses at countless other levels. Most importantly, removing or relocating to smaller offices can drastically reduce an organization’s carbon footprint. Small changes in habits (eg employees replacing home-cooked meals with home-made ones) can also reduce daily waste. While it is important to recognize that working from home comes with its own environmental impact, especially if employees replace daily work travel with different types of travel, the shift from on-site to remote and hybrid work generally promotes sustainability. But this is not the only benefit.

Hundreds of studies have been conducted during the pandemic on the psychological effects of remote and hybrid work. Not all studies have reached identical conclusions, but some recurring themes have emerged. One of the most consistent findings is that being able to work remotely, at least part-time, reduces stress and anxiety. As such, remote and hybrid can not only help organizations reach zero standards faster, but also alleviate many forms of stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Remote or hybrid work, at least when presented as options, seems to be a potentially powerful way to deal with two growing problems in the workplace: the need to build more sustainable businesses and tackle mental health problems, including stress and anxiety. Given that there is compelling evidence that employees are increasingly looking for organizations that are in line with their core values, there is reason to believe that adopting sustainability is also a good thing for recruiting and retaining staff and ultimately something good for business.


Dr. Camille Preston is a business psychologist, leadership expert and founder and CEO of AIM Leadership.

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