Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are growing in importance in the drive to attract and retain the best talent, with today’s recruits expecting tangible action from employers on climate issues.
The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in the dynamic between employers and employees.
Employees are increasingly looking to employers to have clear, authentic values and reflect these in their day to day working practices.
This switch in focus is leading many organisations to think differently about their employer brand and ways to develop a supportive and inclusive culture.
Equality, diversity, inclusion and ESG
Equality, diversity and inclusion is a fundamental part of the ESG conversation.
Inclusivity goes beyond guarding against discrimination or championing equal treatment (both of which are still very important) and to the heart of employees’ sense of belonging in the workplace.
Inclusion is usually more about breaking down barriers and helping employees feel valued and supported as individuals.
For this reason, it can feel more challenging for employers to implement than the more easily measurable metrics of equality and diversity. However, whilst knowing where to start may feel daunting, the good news is that many of the key inclusivity building blocks do not involve huge investments of time or money from employers.
ESG recruitment policies and procedures
The first, and perhaps most obvious, place to start is with policies and procedures.
Employers should ensure that targeted equality, diversity and inclusion policies are in place, with more specific policies around subjects like menopause, mental health and wellbeing, fertility and gender identity as these conversations develop.
But it is important that policies and procedures are accessible and the principles flow down through working practices; they should not just be seen as box-ticking.
Training should also be rolled out to all employees on a regular basis to ensure that the dialogue around inclusion stays relevant and meaningful.
Returning to work and Agile working
The next important ESG touchpoint for many employers will be agile working.
The pandemic undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for bringing this part of the ESG social agenda to the fore; virtually overnight employers and employees discovered the benefits of flexible working.
Whilst it is not going to be realistic for every employer to offer remote or hybrid working to all, where possible, fostering a personalised approach to location, hours and working practices can lead to huge leaps forward in inclusivity.
Even small tweaks in flexibility can provide much needed support to employees across focus areas, such as disability inclusion and social mobility.
Employee wellbeing is vital to Social ESG
Employee wellbeing will continue to be important for employers who are looking to support their employees as individuals, with differing needs.
The long-term impact of the pandemic is yet to be seen, but most employers will already have been grappling with how best to support employees struggling with personal trauma, burnout, financial pressures and a range of mental and physical health issues.
There is an increasing recognition that employees need and want to be seen not just as ‘staff’ but as human beings; people who face challenges and need support for wellbeing.
In an inclusive and supportive workplace, wellbeing should be a consistent anchor point to ensure that employees feel able to raise issues and know where to find help.
Recruitment and promotion
Recruitment and promotion processes offer another opportunity for employers to demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity.
Employees want to see themselves represented in their organisation across all levels (including leadership) which requires effort and focus over time.
Low-cost initiatives such as mentoring, shadowing and training for underrepresented groups can all play a vital role and provide a platform for measuring success.
Many employers are also looking towards positive action in recruitment and targeted succession planning to maximise the diversity of talent coming through the ranks.
Reward and compensation
Another practical area of innovation is reward, where forward-thinking employers are seeking to craft their benefit/incentive packages to appeal to a range of employees.
Again, many of these initiatives do not have to involve substantial costs. Perks such as buy/sell holiday allowances, unpaid sabbaticals, compressed working hours in the summer and free days off on employees’ birthdays can all be extremely popular and easy to implement.
As different employees will have different priorities depending on their personal circumstances, employers should start with a blank page and find out from employees what is on the wish-list before looking at feasibility.
The key to business success is dialogue
Finally, the importance of dialogue with employees cannot be stressed enough.
A huge part of enabling an inclusive and supportive culture comes with the ability to actively listen to employees in a safe space. Today’s employees are increasingly looking for employers that treat them as equals and share their values and ethics.
A meaningful, ongoing dialogue affords employers with an unmissable opportunity to meet these demands, by finding out what makes their employees tick and treating everyone as individuals.
Having a clear ESG agenda that employees can contribute to, with regular reporting and feedback, will deliver rewards on so many levels – reputation, workplace engagement, productivity and, ultimately, long-term success in becoming an employer of the future.
Danielle Ingham, Employment Partner based in the Trowers & Hamlins Manchester office