How to… create a sustainable workforce

12 April 2013
How to… create a sustainable workforce

Energise your employees through physical, emotional and social wellbeing

In recent times, focus on sustainability has increased significantly, with organisations across all sectors reviewing their green strategy.

Sustainable engagement is more than investing in processes and strategies to get the most out of employees; it's about meeting their core needs so they feel confident, comfortable and inspired to work productively, for the long term. This means enabling them to work effectively, engaging them within the organisation and energising them collectively, as a team towards the shared goal.

It might sound like buzzwords or "fluffy" processes, but the facts ring loud and clear. In its recent global study, Towers Watson found that companies with sustainable workforces had an average annual operating margin of 27%. Those with low scores listed operating margins of less than 10%. In the same survey, just 18% of employees within sustainable workplaces stated they would leave their employer; compared with 40% from the lowest scoring companies.

Emily Perry is head of commercial development at Purple

Creating a sustainable culture of employee satisfaction

1. Energising through health and wellbeing - Being healthy and happy at work has clear bottom-line benefits: healthy people means productive people, and by definition profitable people. It also enhances creativity, innovation and satisfaction, while reducing absenteeism, conflict and labour turnover.
Assuming all of the statutory health and safety requirements are up to date, a physically and mentally sustainable culture is likely to include:

  • Equality
  • Support and empathy
  • Shared values
  • Positive environment
  • Attendance culture
  • Trust

There are also a number of low-investment strategies that can be implemented immediately to show that you care about your people and their wellbeing. They include:

  • Healthy drinks and plenty of water available
  • Ensuring people take proper breaks by providing a space where they can relax and chat to colleagues
  • Being generous with holiday entitlement and encouraging people to take it
  • Subsidised gym membership
  • Free fruit and healthy snacks
  • Allowing time off to take part in charity or CSR activities

2. Enabling productivity - People are productive when they're enthusiastic and engaged with the task in hand. They also want to know how they are contributing to the big picture. Your strategy may be decided in the board room; however all people should be aware of the mission and have the opportunity to set their own goals and be part of achieving this. Make sure your organisation is productive by:

  • Giving people the resources to do their job
  • Recognising achievement - a simple "thank you" goes a long way
  • Promoting a positive work-life balance; balancing the needs of the business and individual in order to accommodate the responsibilities and aspirations of the employee
  • Setting challenges - help people to step outside their comfort zones by involving them in projects, delegating responsibility for certain tasks and taking their opinions on board
  • Allowing flexible working practices

3. Engaging employees - Before improving engagement, you must first know what the current situation is. Ask your people during one-to-one meetings, or use an employee opinion survey. With this information to hand you can plan for the future; implementing quick wins such as:

  • Ensuring your people promise matches the reality. Are you doing what you tell your employees during reviews? Are there things you should do more of?
  • Collect dots. Danny Meyer [New York restaurateur] talks about collecting dots with customers. The same should be said of your employees - find out about your people; their likes, dislikes, families, aspirations. Then refer to it in conversations; it shows you listen and care about them as an individual.
  • Have fun. Arrange nights out, lunches together or a few drinks after a shift end; whatever you choose to do, make sure it's mature, sensible and inclusive.

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