03 August 2023

The S in ESGs: What Companies Need For Social Sustainability

This summer, we dive into some best practices from our research, which looked at hundreds of companies across five different regions (the US, UK, UAE, EU, & other European countries) and how they approach the social aspect of their ESG initiatives. 


Dr. Ozge Kantas, Ph.D., CP, PAT, Senior Scientist in Residence at Wellbees and Assistant Professor of Psychology at St. John Fisher University, contributed significantly to our research. When we looked at this research, we focused on the following factors as primary considerations of what constitutes a successful ESG strategy: social sustainability strategy, psychological safety, inclusive management, supportive leadership, bridging the skills and talent gap, employee satisfaction and engagement, and wellbeing. 



Another partner in our research is PwC Turkey which verified all of our research and findings. 


Employee perception around their organisation's ESG programs

We ran an extensive survey that asked employees what programs and policies their employers had in place, and here's the data that came back:


  • 33% of employees reported that their company has no diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) policies compared to the 67% who said their company does.
  • 37% of employees stated their company doesn't have any programs for employee wellbeing compared to 67.5% that say their company does.
  • 36% of employees reported their company does not have training that supports talent and skill acquisition, while 64% said their company does.
  • 70% of employees said their company had no policies around ethical supply chains, while 60% did.
  • 76% of employees said their company has no initiatives or policies around social justice, while a mere 24% reported their company does.


What's important to consider here is that very often, we found that employees weren't aware of the ESG policies in place at their companies; being more communicative and vocal about the initiatives and procedures in place at your company is a simple and impactful way to increase the overall sense of belonging and company perception among your employees. 


The 'Social' Score Across Gender & Generations

Our studies found that across all categories of social wellbeing, women and younger generations, namely Gen Z employees, rate their social wellbeing as worse than men. This data can serve as a signpost for employers to take additional steps to focus their programs and initiatives on these groups' specific challenges and needs.


Comparing Countries & Regions

There are some standout trends we're seeing here with some notable takeaways:


  • We see that the wellbeing scores across the EU and other European countries are decreasing with one exception—psychological safety. Using that solid foundation of psychological safety, which is arguably one of the most important scores, European organisations still have an opportunity to improve the other areas using carefully crafted interventions.
  • Similarly, we see a declining trajectory across all scores in the UK. Still, there is a high score around inclusive, supportive leads in the UK which, combined with an improved score around psychological safety, can also provide the UK with a turnaround.
  • The US tends to be higher on the skills, talent, and wellbeing scores. The reason is that there's a massive infrastructure in the US around talent and skills growth combined with a booming industry around employee wellbeing that's been growing over the last 30 years. Nevertheless, work still needs to be done around psychological safety and inclusive leadership scores.
  • For the UAE, vitality, and wellbeing scores are very high but so is the stress and burnout level. These may seem contradictory, but that's because the UAE has seen a boom in employee engagement while also experiencing a more vocal workforce calling out high working hours, stress, and burnout.


The residual impact of COVID-19. 

We increasingly see that while employees are at ease in their personal lives, they still feel checked out at work. This puzzle goes against the conventional way of thinking that assumes that individual wellbeing ties directly to employee engagement, productivity, and performance at work. Our research participants expressed a critical shift in how people regard the connection between their personal lives and their work in the aftermath of COVID-19. Our recommendation to address this sentiment is twofold: give your people time to adjust and settle back into all of the changes that have and continue to occur, and initiate or maintain open, honest dialogue with your employees to better understand your specific employee needs.


Below are some considerations to apply to improve the social well-being of your organisation:


  • It's not about ticking a box.


Most of the time, when we look at EG reporting, we see that companies look at this as simply a box to check off; in other words, well-being washing. We can and must do better.


One example is a client of ours with predominantly manual labor employees that has been an ESG rockstar. They launched a wellbeing initiative, rolling out a new flexible working schedule that gave their employees more autonomy and agency over their work schedules and encouraged a culture of open communication within teams and between employees and their managers. culture of open commuhication within teams and between employees and their managers.


Another example comes from a client without the budget to increase salaries but was determined to find a meaningful way to improve her employees' overall wellbeing. She found that most of her employees were wiring a portion of their salaries abroad to their families each month, paying high banking fees and using up precious time off to wait in line at the bank. To cut down costs for employees and save them time, thereby reducing time off requests and lost productivity for the company, she contacted the banks, arranging for a reduced wire transfer fee and a more streamlined way for employees to transfer their money virtually. 


  • Combine psychological safety with inclusive, supportive leadership.


To get people beyond feeling neutral about their work and contribution to the organisation, you must create a work environment that prioritizes psychological safety and inclusive leadership. We recommend that all managers be trained in these social-emotional skills, as our research has found that managers who practice these soft skills have teams who score higher in wellbeing and performance. As an added bonus, all employees can have the opportunity to upskill their social-emotional skills, as we've found that the most anxiety-producing issues for employees generally revolve around the need for soft skills. In terms of identifying where in your organisation you need to focus, one way to learn where there are gaps in your wellbeing scores around psychological safety and inclusive leadership is by using Wellbees as a tool to assess and analyze this across all your teams.


  • Create opportunities for your teams to spend time together outside of work.


One clear message we hear from the hundreds of employee feedback we receive is that we're all social creatures and crave connection and a feeling of belonging within our teams and organisations. So, whether it's virtual gatherings, a company-wide trip, or location-based meetups, research shows that spending time together outside of work increases employees' engagement, connection to their colleagues, and overall sense of belonging within the company. Implementing this doesn't require a large budget and can go a long way in developing a sense of camaraderie and psychological safety felt by and among employees. 


  • Feed your Learning & Development budget.


Training is a high-impact, low-budget, and coordinated way of encouraging psychological safety, healthy communication, and team collaboration. Teaching your people how to connect more deeply with each other and their work will multiply your performance, attrition, productivity, and employee engagement rates. This point is especially relevant for the younger employees who crave possibilities to upskill themselves and earn opportunities to take on more responsibility. So while many companies may overlook the resources they invest in their L&D departments, you shouldn't. 


For even more insights and data points on amplifying your organisation's social wellbeing, watch the entire webinar by clicking below!

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