This leads to strained employee-employer relationships and disengaged employees ‒ thereby causing attrition.
The above narrative might have been considered alarmist – then COVID-19 hit. The pandemic forced organizations to take rapid decisions along with demonstrating resilience, optimism, and adaptability to overcome any negative experiences faced by the employees and the customers. Therefore, revoking a short-term vision and implementing a multi-stakeholder approach to execute human resource strategies necessitates the adoption of sustainable people practices.
Understanding people sustainability
People sustainability is going beyond human retention strategies such as training and development programs and employee engagement. It is the utilization of all applicable HR tools and processes that help create a productive and safe workplace for all employees by being attentive to employees’ physical and psycho-social well-being and managing talent over a long-term horizon.
People sustainability can be classified in the following four areas:
- Sociological: This includes creating a comprehensive managerial process that produces an environment that works for all employees, e.g., employee participation, diversity, etc.
- Psychological: This encompasses building a supportive and healthy work environment that strengthens employee loyalty and productivity, e.g., policies for care of employees and compliance with labor regulations.
- Green: This involves crafting a talent management program that attracts environmentally responsible candidates through “Green” HRM (Human Resources Management). It includes practices that increase the overall level of eco-literacy amongst employees and make sustainability a part of everyone’s daily practices.
- Strategic: This incorporates formulating a strategic roadmap that helps the organization attain a sustained competitive advantage, e.g., hiring the right fit with a long-term orientation and extending strategic collaborations with external organizations.
Simply put, if the current and potential employees of an organization feel secure enough to work for it long-term and find themselves capable of working in alignment with the organization’s values, then its human resource strategies are sustainable in nature.
Exploring current trends
Sustainability reports have primarily showcased the best practices in terms of the firm’s approach towards climate intelligence and carbon footprint. However, some of the world’s most sustainable organizations have started to include the element of people sustainability in their narrative. Yet, a lot remains to be captured on how organizations are implementing these practices and creating a conscious culture of sustainability.
Today, some of the most mature elements of people sustainability prevalent in reports are diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, health and safety of employees, and compliance with labor laws. Organizations prioritizing people sustainability are leveraging state-of-the-art technology, broadening the definition of diversity from surface-level to deep-level, and setting sustainability goals that can be aligned with the values of the individual and the organization. Since people sustainability is still evolving as a concept, it is susceptible to multiple perceptions and interpretations of its elements and the ways in which it can be measured and reported.
Harnessing people sustainability
The human resource management function can leverage its skills and tools to identify the existing processes that can be viewed through a sustainability lens. A comprehensive plan could start by assessing the organization’s current stage in terms of sustainability and determining the desired state. This will act as an enabler in defining measurable goals, since no sustainability project is complete without reporting.
Some firms have a Chief Sustainability Officer designated to drive all the elements of sustainability. Alternatively, organizations can decide on a lead with a dedicated team who can plan out the implementation phase based on the identified elements of people sustainability which will depend on the determined goals. Since the key drivers of people sustainability are the employees, the entire implementation needs to be supported by an organizational climate that is driven by an actively engaged leadership team to create and communicate a conscious culture of sustainability.
Also, key is measuring and reporting the sustainability initiatives of the organization. Research suggests that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure enables organizations to embark on the journey of sustainable development with gradual improvements in sustainability performance. Organizations can use the existing frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework to identify their key sustainability performance indicators that can be mapped against their goals to assess their progress.
People sustainability is not a destination, it’s a capability. The ever-increasing competition and the demand for talent that stays within the organization long-term will make people sustainability a top priority in every leadership strategy, two to three years down the line, if not today. The pace at which the external environment is changing for organizations exceeds the preparedness of their internal environment to meet those changes. This calls for organizations to devise strategies from a long-term vision keeping their employees in mind.
Practice Head – Workforce and Organization, Invent India
Senior Manager, Workforce & Organization, Invent India
Senior Consultant – Workforce and Organization, Invent India