How the Concept of Human Sustainability Impacts Company Success

Pauline Volovik
7 min readJun 12, 2024

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Imagine a world where business success is measured not by profit indicators, stocks, ratings, or material assets, but by the well-being of employees, society, and the planet. This is the core idea of human sustainability — a holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being, skills, professional development, and personal growth of individuals.

In this article, I suggest that we should explore the concept of human sustainability and understand how companies can create a favorable working environment, why this is important for the organization itself, modern business, and society as a whole, and how to develop an effective strategy to implement this idea.

What is Human Sustainability

The world is changing too fast, and with it, the usual work models. The workplace can be anywhere, and traditional hiring has become just one of the options for collaboration. Generative artificial intelligence is no longer a hero in Iron Man movies but a real technology that automates and speeds up work processes. Preliminary estimates suggest it could:

This is not a potential threat but a radical change in the labor market. New professions related to AI will emerge. The pace of technological change is another factor that vividly illustrates that innovations require workers to acquire new skills or retrain. Where do companies fit in? As employers, they must create a favorable working environment and provide conditions for their employees to realize themselves professionally and personally, advance in their careers, or improve their skills while adapting to changing work models. However, human sustainability is not limited to employment and professional growth issues.

The Deloitte team defines “human sustainability as “the extent to which an organization creates value for people as people, ensuring their stronger health and well-being, stronger skills and higher employability, good work, career advancement opportunities, greater equality, and a stronger sense of belonging and purpose.”

In the long run, such interaction, positively affects business results, work, and life for everyone.

For any company, people are the most valuable asset. Fair labor relations, training, adaptation or retraining of employees, support for their well-being and mental health, the creation of corporate culture and a pleasant climate, flexible work formats, conditions for development and self-realization are not an obligation of the company but valuable initiatives, the implementation of which in the main activities of your company will, in the long run, affect the efficiency, loyalty, and results of the team.

Why Human Sustainability Takes the Lead in Business Prosperity

Let’s take a look at the conclusions of analysts from Aon, Future Forum, and Deloitte, who in an era of uncertainty and instability pay attention to the well-being of employees, considering human sustainability as a crucial factor in the development and success of companies.

  • According to the results of the 2022–2023 Global Wellbeing Survey by Aon, increasing employee resilience, flexibility, and belonging can enhance company productivity by at least 11–55%.

For Aon, the Human Sustainability Index (HSI), which measures well-being, resilience, and stability at the individual, team, and organizational levels, is the main parameter on which personnel decisions can be based. According to the survey results, the relationship between individual well-being (physical, emotional, financial, social) and sustainable working life can influence company efficiency, employee engagement, talent attraction, and retention. For 38% of organizations, employee well-being remains a priority for the next five years:

Source: Aon data.

Future Forum studies focus on productivity, a sense of belonging, preferred ways of labor, office workers’ experiences, and expectations. Investments in technology, transparent regular communication with colleagues, cooperation, and camaraderie, connection with direct supervisors and company values, and flexible schedules positively impact the employee experience, engagement, and productivity, motivating them to come to the office, and fostering corporate culture and productivity:

Source: Future Forum data.

Deloitte sees the implementation of human sustainability programs in organizations’ activities as a guideline for the future. Implementing this concept attracts and develops talents in the team, making the workplace more useful and productive.

The current model of interaction between the employee and the organization provokes too many problems that can become obstacles to implementing the principles of sustainable human potential development:

Source: Deloitte.

Future Forum also highlights burnout as one of the main problems growing worldwide:

Source: Future Forum data.

According to UKG, for 60% of employees worldwide, work is the biggest factor affecting their mental health, engagement, and productivity.

Gallup analytics show an interesting trend. Improving work-life balance and personal well-being is one of the main reasons people voluntarily leave their jobs. We observe how it strengthens every year:

Source: Gallup data.

If the concept of human sustainability is a top priority for a company, it is necessary to bridge the gap between the desire to implement it and concrete actions. Why a gap? Because many believe that it requires large capital investments and global changes.

But the main transformation concerns, first of all, a reassessment of positions about business and the importance of people to it. Let’s consider several examples that clearly demonstrate how implementing the principles of human sustainability impacts business:

At McKinsey, there is a reboarding program launched in Europe in 2019 as a two-year pilot project. Its goal was to reduce employee turnover after childbirth and improve their work experience after returning from parental leave. The company reduced employee turnover by 20% and attracted more than 1,100 participants. Since 2023, the program has operated in all McKinsey offices. It includes five components:

  • an individual reintegration plan;
  • individual parental coaching;
  • return assistance;
  • specially calibrated performance assessments;
  • broader parental support (reimbursement of childcare expenses, more days for emergency childcare).

After a 17-month study by Financial Diaries, PayPal developed the PayPal Employee Financial Wellness program. It aimed to help hourly employees overcome financial difficulties, eliminate debts, and learn to manage their savings. The employer achieved its goals: program participants reduced their debts, increased savings, received higher wages, improved financial literacy, reduced health insurance premiums, and created investment portfolios. The program was launched in 2019, and PayPal invested tens of millions of dollars in the first year alone. By reducing costs for recruitment, adaptation, and training, and increasing productivity, the company saved $500,000 a year.

Zurich Insurance Group uses people analytics to assess employees’ skills and abilities and understand who needs upskilling and retraining.

Unilever strives to attract talented people to the team. Together with UK trade unions, the company launched the U-Work initiative. Program participants work a certain number of weeks per year for Unilever. They receive a monthly fee, compensation during assignments, pension contributions, benefits, paid leave during work, and scholarships that can be used for education.

The development and implementation of the human sustainability concept begin with rethinking the company’s leadership relationships with people: employees not as subordinates but as valuable, qualified partners whose opinions are heard. To improve their skills, a real ecosystem is created based on trust, inclusivity, and satisfaction.

How to Implement the Idea of Human Sustainability in Your Company

One option is to create an organizational culture as the basis for interaction with your team. Deloitte suggests implementing human sustainability through sustainable work:

  • analyze how to make the work process more sustainable, inclusive, and engaging;
  • understand how and what opportunities for adaptation, retraining, and assuming new roles you provide and can provide to employees;
  • figure out how to adapt the amount of compensation to different employee needs;
  • learn well-being indicators that should include emotional, mental, physical, social, and financial well-being.

It is also necessary to know the attitude of the team towards corporate culture and planned changes. For example, Ford conducted employee surveys every two years, trying to track their mood and attitude toward corporate culture. Today, the team uses a new approach, “Ask / Listen / Observe.” Every quarter, the team conducts a mini-version of the employee survey and a broader version once a year. In addition to survey questions, anonymous reviews on internet resources, chats of corporate meetings, and comments on internal news articles are also taken into account.

Conclusion

Human sustainability is a long journey whose endpoint is the creation of a better future for the company and all its employees. The concept itself is one of the elements of sustainable development along with environmental, social, and economic aspects. The interconnection between these four pillars determines priorities for the future of all humanity.

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