Eco-anxiety in the workplace: what it means for wellbeing leaders

Eco-anxiety phrase from wooden blocks with letters, anxiety about ecological disasters natural environment pollution and climate change, eco anxiety concept, random letters around, top view wooden background

This week, Bupa have published their 2023 Wellbeing Index, showing that 48% of Gen Z would leave an employer who cannot keep sustainable promises.

Meanwhile, Force of Nature, a youth non-profit organisation, goes so far as to advise that levels of profound concern about the state of our planet’s climate are rising to the point where people are experiencing “eco-anxiety”. Their research suggests that 70% of young people feel hopeless due to the climate crisis and 56% believe humanity is doomed, while only 26% feel that they know how to contribute to solving the problem. 

Commenting on the Bupa Wellbeing Index findings, Rachel Murray, head of employee health and wellbeing at Bupa Global and UK, said:

“Many Gen Z workers in particular feel their generation is responsible for protecting the environment, a pressure that can take its toll on wellbeing and mental health in the workplace when they see practices that go against good sustainability action”.

As organisations evolve to become more eco-conscious, sustainability consultants,  SaveMoneyCutCarbon (SMCC) have outlined ways employers can tailor their approach and build strategies to combat the rippling effects of eco-anxiety. They recommend a collaborative approach that encourages positive behaviour change at a micro and macro level including:

1. Raise awareness

In the British Medical Journal, university researchers advise that one of the best routes to alleviating rising levels of climate anxiety is to increase optimism and hope by improving awareness.

Giving employees access to the most reliable information on climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as practical information on actions they can take, can help significantly to alleviate anxiety. Self-motivated research through trustworthy news sources is a powerful counter-balance against feelings of dread and hopelessness.

Companies could follow pioneering work by mental health charities. For example, sUStain is a climate anxiety project, which supports adults and young people. It’s organised by Norfolk & Waveney Mind in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), The Resilience Project and other partners.

2. Make practical steps internally

Giving employees the means, the power and the opportunity to make positive change by taking simple and practical steps to combat eco-anxiety, such as reducing energy use, recycling, using less plastic, and conserving water – and feeling part of a wider group making effective changes – is an essential step.

While climate anxiety can be cripplingly intense, research shows that individuals can learn to manage potentially problematic feelings of anxiety. Simple reappraisal strategies such as learning to interpret eco-anxiety as a helpful motivator, have been found to be an effective way to reshape terrors, fears and troubles.

This could include more days working outdoors, supporting volunteering days, installing facilities to encourage people to cycle to work, or setting up a ‘swap shop’ where employees can bring pre-loved items for others to take.

3. Staff-led environmental audits & employee education

SMCC (who provide environmental audits and employee training as part of their consultancy) also recommend staff-led environmental audits to measure impact, as well as the introduction of education tools to help ease eco-anxiety.

Implications for workplace wellbeing leaders

At Make A Difference our conversations with wellbeing leaders indicate growing concern that they are struggling to engage, motivate and lead the next generation entering the workplace.

Knowing that many Gen Z’s prioritise sustainability, helps wellbeing leaders to understand their young recruits’ mindset. It also provides an argument for ensuring wellbeing aligns with Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) strategies and is embedded across the organisation as business as usual.

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