The big trends in sustainability and ESG that Wellbeing professionals need to be aware of


Employees are increasingly being seen as resources that also need to be “sustained” alongside other essential resources like money and materials. This growing shift is putting Wellbeing firmly on the C-suite’s radar and the ESG agenda (see this feature for more on this).

But ESG’s focus has changed significantly over the years, and is constantly evolving, meaning that wellbeing professionals must be aware of the key trends that are likely to affect its future incarnation.

We’ve summarised a few of these key trends driven by the most progressive employers operating in this area.

Giving employees a direct say in what ESG initiatives they want to see is becoming more common

Younger generations, particularly Gen Z, increasingly won’t work for companies that don’t take their environmental and social responsibilities seriously (for more on this, see this feature).

Bupa’s latest Wellbeing Index Report also shows that workers want to be actively involved in the action on sustainability and net zero targets. Just over one in five (21%) workers say it’s not enough for senior leaders to put out promises on sustainability without getting input from the wider workforce – rising to 29% among Gen Z.

“Many Gen Z workers in particular feel their generation is responsible for protecting the environment,” says Rachel Murray, Head of Employee Health and Wellbeing at Bupa. “Giving people more of a direct say in what ESG initiatives they want to see is likely to become more widespread within UK businesses, allowing the workforce to feel more invested in both business performance and creating a better world.”

Asif Sadiq, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Warner Bros, who is also speaking at MAD World, as part of the DE&I Symposium, agrees:

“Ignoring this [trend] is not an option. But shouting about the fact that you’ve got rid of plastic cups is not enough. It goes back to creating a sense of belonging; people want to feel that the organisation they work for genuinely values what they believe in.”

Employers are cultivating a sense of employee ownership around the ESG agenda

In order to benefit from the collective power and energy of the workforce to tackle these big issues, employers need to cultivate a sense of ownership of the action within the employee base.

For instance, many employers are creating forums, or platforms, for employees to share their ideas and take action. Others are integrating sustainability training into an employee’s development plan.

The demand for content which helps employees learn about sustainability is forecast to soar, too, according to Cornerstone’s 2023 People and Workplace Trends Report. A key reason for this, says the report, is that sustainability intersects with other workplace trends like employee wellbeing.

Employers are giving more thought to retaining staff, especially diverse talent

Traditionally, employers have focused much of their efforts on the graduate recruitment and onboarding process, but then often neglect continuous support of these employees as they progress through the company, through key life and age stages. 

Therefore many employees, particularly from diverse backgrounds which the company worked hard to attract, leave, making their workforce less sustainable.

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Some employers are starting to discuss these issues and come up with innovative solutions to make these employees feel more supported and like they belong, which is key to wellbeing at work. For instance see this article which touches on the need to support employees returning to work after parental leave, and this article and this article which talk about apprenticeships and internships for older workers.

Progressive employers are adapting workplaces to retain neurodiverse colleagues

One particular area of interest currently is how to ensure neurodiverse talent is sustainable and not draining from companies because they feel they don’t “fit in”.

This is an issue on Chelsey Sprong, Head of Social Impact at insurer Beazley’s, who is speaking at MAD World on 12th October, radar:

“Neurodiverse colleagues might have previously left our company because we didn’t have the social structure in place to support them or visible role models. Unlike initiatives around race and ethnicity, our managers aren’t yet trained regarding neurodiversity. That’s why we’ve been thinking hard about how we create a space that feels safe for them to disclose, and a culture which supports them and they can easily progress through. We’re working on it, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to happen.”

A sustainable workforce comes from systemic change, not initiatives, and takes time

“If you want to be sustainable, it’s not something that is achieved overnight because you’ve sent everyone on a Mental First Aider course and ticked the box, or bought an app,” says Malcolm Staves, Global VP Health & Safety, at L’Oréal, who is speaking about this issue at MAD World on 12th October.

“Yes, there may be value in doing these things because people think ‘Oh, I work for a nice company that does these things’,” he says. “But you create a great place to work that has a sustainable people model by creating a work environment where people can be themselves and bring their whole selves to work.”

Putting sustainability at the heart of a 4 Day Week strategy

“One of the things we were most worried about moving to a 4 Day Week was being sustainable from an employee wellbeing perspective because we were looking for staff to deliver 100% productivity to be able to produce the same amount in 4 days, as they did in 5,” says Simon Ursell, Managing Director of B-corp company Tyler Grange.

In order to ensure employees’ work rate is sustainable and they are not going to be tipped into stress or burnout due to the extra pressure, Tyler Grange believes they need more emotional and mental support. Ursell urges others considering a 4 Day Week to prioritise this, rather than thinking the change to reduced days in itself will automatically have a positive impact on wellbeing; this may not be the case if employees are not well supported enough.

Tyler Grange has done this via an inhouse psychologist and extra rewards/benefits, as well ensuring employees are using their extra day wisely, to decompress, relax and enjoy their lives. It also encourages its employees to volunteer too, for a sense of wellbeing as well as connection with the community.

“They’ve become much more able to cope with all of the pressures in an industry which is really busy with lots of deadlines,” says Ursell, adding that the team now is 6% more productive even though working one less day a week.

Rather than tackling all issues at once, it’s better to start small 

Everything you need to consider when it comes to ESG can be overwhelming, particularly as it’s changing all the time. 

Sprong says it’s about “prioritisation” and advises doing a “materiality assessment” to identify what issues are most important to an organisation. 

“My advice is start within your own organisation and ask: what is it that your people care about most?” says Sprong. “You can’t do everything, so start there.”

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