Sustainability in the Workplace
Table of Contents
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Table of Contents
What Is Sustainability in the Workplace?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), sustainability in the workplace is “balancing the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.” We will focus mostly on the people aspect of this, but will tie in the other two as well. This isn’t to say that one is more important than the others, because they all have a place and each is important to ensure we create a sustainable future for the company.
Sustainability can also mean different things to different people. For some, sustainability may be as simple as ensuring they get paid for their work. As a leader in the company, sustainability may mean ensuring the company can continue to grow and develop in the future. It is important to recognize that what looks like sustainability to leaders may look unsustainable to the people we employ.
Why Is Sustainability in the Workplace Important?
We all want to grow our companies and ensure they are around long-term, but that is just one of the aspects of sustainability.
- Growth. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you run or lead a business, you want to grow and continue to develop the company. You provide a service and employment to numerous people and want to ensure you can have long-term impact. The only way to certify this is to sustainably grow your business. This doesn’t mean take every opportunity that comes your way; it requires you to be methodical in your approach to growth. If you over-promise but under-deliver, have you created customers who want to return to your product or service? No, you’ve done the opposite. Don’t overextend your staff or your deliverables. Keep them within the realm of possibility and make certain you can meet current customer expectations. If you can’t manage what you currently have on your plate, don’t even start thinking about growth. Get the tools in place to meet current demand and then look into growing.
- Culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you develop a culture of sustainability, you are set up for future success. Employees don’t just come to work for a paycheck, even though that is a motivating factor. We all want to enjoy our work. Sustainable companies find ways to build sustainability into their culture. This can be as simple as setting achievable objectives for team members. Constantly pushing for above-and-beyond results can lead to burnout and the opposite of sustainability because you will lose team members and be forced to train new ones.
- Resources. This refers to the planet aspect of the OSHA quote above. Every business uses resources of some sort. These can include fuel, people, textiles, etc. If we aren’t creating a sustainable future, our business will run dry quickly. We must innovate to utilize strategies to protect the resources we use. If we run out of that resource our product needs, we will be unable to produce that product.
Types of Sustainability in the Workplace
As OSHA quoted at the beginning of this article, we will focus on the sustainability of people, the planet and profit. Each of these has their role in creating future sustainability, so let’s do a deeper dive into each.
This is an HR encyclopedia, so we focus on people first and foremost. Remember, without our people, we cannot create anything. It can be easy to overlook that we enjoy success because of the efforts of our team members. Without them, we have no future. Sustainability in regards to people can lead down two paths. The first is company sustainability related to people. As a business owner, you may be able to get the company off the ground, but eventually you have too many hats and will be spread too thin. You will need to surround yourself with good people who can wear the hats you don’t have the time or expertise to wear in those roles. Get the right people in the right seats and watch them create a future for your company with your guidance.
The other path is the path of the employee. Employees are searching for security. That security comes from sustainability. When employees see you are creating something that will last long-term, that becomes attractive. Also, most employees want to be pushed but not over-exerted. If we push our employees, great things can happen. Growth happens for the company and the employee as well. However, if we push too hard or too far, it can lead to burnout and turnover, which creates the opposite effect of sustainability.
We have a finite number of natural resources available to us on the planet. We need to do whatever we can to ensure we are responsible stewards of those resources. Every product we produce will ultimately use some of those resources. However, we can put plans and strategies in place to ensure we aren’t overusing and that we are using recycled materials to protect natural resources. If we can’t protect those resources, we will be unable to create a sustainable future for our workplace.
While probably in the forefront of every business owner’s mind, this is the aspect of sustainability that we haven’t addressed up to this point. We want to ensure that we are profitable and can remain so. Without profit, people and planet sustainability don’t matter because we won’t be able to achieve them. We want to certify we are growing at a reasonable pace. It’s important not to grow too quickly because that can lead to overexertion and stretching ourselves too thin. Remember: don’t over-promise and under-deliver! Say what you are going to do and do what you say. This will ultimately lead to profitability and sustainable growth for your company.
How to Develop Sustainability in the Workplace
While I have outlined three steps below, they aren’t linear. Think of them as circular, because the process of developing sustainability doesn’t stop.
Step 1: Plan
Obvious first step, right? Develop a plan for each of the scenarios above. Be as detailed as possible so there aren’t gray areas. Each company’s plan will look different, so if your plan doesn’t match with someone else’s, that’s okay!
Step 2: Act
Time to put your plan into action. Don’t let it be words on a piece of paper. Accomplish what you wrote down. Meet with the key players of your plan to ensure everyone is on the same page and on board. You can’t do this alone!
Step 3: Evaluate
This is probably the most important step. Set up evaluation periods after you begin to implement your plan. This could be one month after implementation and then every six months after. Choose a timeframe that fits your business. You need to determine if your plan is achieving the desired results and attempt to anticipate future roadblocks. If your plan isn’t achieving the desired results, start over at the planning stage.
Questions You’ve Asked Us About Sustainability in the Workplace
Nick is a certified HR professional holding an SPHR and SHRM-CP. Nick has built HR teams from the ground up as well as worked for big corporations. Nick enjoys consulting and training those who are just getting started in HR. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family.