Corporate’s Responsibility Toward Social Sustainability

How can organizations take better care of their workers and in turn contribute more positively to society

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Today we live in a world where technology continues to simplify our lives, making it easier to get things done – from shopping and banking to connecting with friends. Despite these technological advancements, their promise in the world of work to continue to make work easier and give overwhelmed employees a chance to find better work/life balance has yet to be fully realized. Mobility enables employees to work anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Yet the majority of the workforce has not yet been freed from the constraints of the (minimum of the) 8-5 work day that often goes hand and hand with long commutes and stressful days.

Studies have confirmed that the commute to work that most of us accept as a given has many detrimental effects. Daily commutes of only 10-15 miles or more are correlated to higher blood pressure, obesity, exhaustion and cholesterol, and perhaps even more disturbingly, higher rates of depression, loneliness and divorce. Long commutes are correlated to overall lower life satisfaction and happiness.

When you add in the actual work experience, these impacts are compounded. Lack of satisfaction with your work takes a toll by way of weight gain, more frequent sickness, poor/damaged relationships, isolation, and lack of sleep. And keep in mind that 55% of Americans report a lack of job satisfaction and 70% indicate feeling stressed out at work. So these side effects are impacting a very large portion of society. Work/Life balance also remains a key issue for many workers – Compared to 20 years ago, people spend 15% more time in the office and their overall leisure time has decreased by 33%. Lack of work/life balance has similar and additional impacts to those of poor job satisfaction, including sleep deprivation, marital conflict, parent-child tensions, and tobacco use.

As business leaders, we can read these statistics and clearly see that it makes good business sense to give our employees a better balance in their lives, minimize unnecessary daily commutes, and strive to build job satisfaction. Depressed, sick, tired people don’t make good workers! But do we, as employers, also have a greater responsibility to society as a whole to do our best to mitigate these issues that have such a detrimental effect on everyone and for which solutions exists?

For several years now, corporations have been adopting the stance of social responsibility – focusing on having a positive impact (or at least not a negative one) on the world. And yet, as the employers of the world, many companies are still doing very little to take care of those under their own wing. And by ignoring their needs, collectively this has a significant harmful impact on society. Despite the multiple studies showing the connections between these physical, emotional, and societal problems and the experiences our workers have in their work environment, corporations by and large have yet to step up to the plate in the name of social responsibility to be more conscientious to the people who belong to our organizations. To make a stand and make their work experience better so this can carry over to helping enable a better, more satisfying life overall.

The technologies exist now to make things better and have been around for years. And as technology advances, it becomes even more simple to be connected and effective from anywhere. The ready availability of technology solutions to solve for how to provide people with flexibility to work when, where, and how they want to so they can fit work more positively into their life should be a moral obligation of corporations that claim to care about social responsibility. Because when you are dealing with a society of people that are depressed, have personal relationship issues, and are sick, then this is no longer just an individual problem for each of the impacted workers. These ailments are having a damaging impact on society as a whole. And while there are certainly many causes of these personal and societal issues that stem well-beyond the work experience, the research has solidly demonstrated the workplace connection to each of them.

Adjusting workplace policies and behaviors to better accommodate each individual will not be a cure-all, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. And this is not only about “Social Responsibility”, but also Sustainability. Today’s Sustainability efforts typically focus on the environment, but social sustainability is also critical. We have an unsustainable environment today, given that the majority of people are being impacted by these negative work-related effects, which is contributing to serious societal woes. Corporate Sustainability should broaden its scope to look at how we can create workplace policies and programs that produce more positive impacts on the workers to promote societal sustainability as well.

This is a calling that I believe is long overdue if corporations truly want to contribute to the better good of society as most claim to. Start with your employees first and be a role model for other companies. Be brave in your policies that empower employees to work when and how they want to:

  • Ensure they are provided engaging experiences that will build job satisfaction.
  • Make sure your office environments allow for people to have spaces to rest and unwind during the often hectic workday. This will help reduce stress and exhaustion.
  • Even for roles in which daily on-site interactions are critical, consider flexing hours to avoid long commutes; for example, allow employees to come in from 10-7 or to work a mix of hours in the office and at home each day.
  • For areas of the country where there may be unavoidable long commutes, offer mass transportation options like what are becoming popular in Silicon Valley (e.g., Company managed shuttles bringing employees to work from their suburban homes.)
  • Shorten the work day – Consider options like the 6-hour day implemented first in Sweden that has been growing in popularity.
  • Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives effectively. Implement a Results-Only environment in which people are measured on their contributions, not hours worked. Thus, they can manage their days however necessary to get their work done and also focus on non-work related priorities as needed.

Technology has primed us for this evolution in work and there are even some shining examples of companies that are pioneering in this space already. Join the cause to help make society a better place by making work better. This is the right future of work to strive for.

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