Injecting Employee Well-Being Into Sustainability (ESG)

Human Resources (HR) professionals, tasked with the goal of employee well-being at their workplace, have heard it before, “obtain senior leadership support!” In fact, the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) states senior leadership support as their first benchmark in their proprietary seven steps for building a results-oriented workplace wellness program.

What we must come to realize is obtaining senior leadership support is an outcome, and to achieve an outcome, a process or input must be fulfilled prior. The outcome cannot occur unless the process or input is fulfilled prior.

Rather than obtaining senior leadership support by relying on the most common thoughts of senior leadership interests and areas of opportunity such as decreasing medical costs, and improving employee morale or productivity, senior leadership interests and areas of opportunity may be elsewhere. If we can uncover into this ‘elsewhere’, a novel method of obtaining senior leadership support can emerge.

It is the purpose of this writing to introduce ‘elsewhere’ as sustainability, expressed through organizational ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors. When ESG factors are embedded within operations and processes, ESG factors can position organizations to have a positive impact on the communities they operate in (i.e. be sustainable) (Brookfield). Examples of corporate functions to embed ESG factors within include marketing, procurement, hiring, and financing. ESG factors can also be embedded within metrics to monitor performance, set targets, and incentivize action (KPMG). All in all, ESG presents a means to sustain long term value-creation through operational excellence (both success and sustainability) (McKinsey). The image below shares the respective factors of ESG and are categorized by the business practices they revolve around.

How ESG factors and therefore sustainability can make appearance within an HR professional’s business case for obtaining senior leadership support can specifically be through the S (social) factor. This is due to the S (social) factor consisting of employee health and safety (1), Corporate Social Responsibility (local community impact) (2), and working conditions, human rights, development, and management (3). These three categories of factors will be explained for the remainder of this writing:

(1) Integrating employee well-being with health and safety to fulfill best practices for health promotion and protection.

(2) Highlighting the expanded definition of employee well-being to take on a culture of health perspective (an COH-EXT) through Corporate Social Responsibility where creating shared value is accomplished for communities.

(3) The ability to create a psychological health and safety management system (PHSMS) in alignment with employee mental health by targeting organizational factors that are root causes of a plethora of adverse employee well-being conditions.

What these three categories of factors have in common is the perspective of augmenting sustainability efforts as opportunities for innovation, disruption, and value creation, rather than solely risk management [e.g. safety] (KPMG). In doing so, injecting employee well-being to augment sustainability can be seen as an element of high operating standards, as made evident through the value creation provided (GRESB).


The reason why injecting employee well-being through health and safety can augment an organizations sustainability efforts is because of the ability for integrating employee well-being with health and safety, also known as heath protection (safety) and health promotion (wellness), to help address safety issues more comprehensively (Loeppke).

A research paper by Loeppke mentions: “Integrated health and safety is the strategic and systematic integration of distinct health and safety programs and policies into a continuum of organizational, personal, occupational, community, and environmental activities that are replicable, measurable, and integrated across institutional silos, enhancing the overall health and well-being of workers and their families and preventing work related injuries and illnesses.”

How psychosocial hazards are related to employee well-being originated by research such as that done by McLeroy et al.who stated that employee injury or illness (relating to the domain of safety) requires a systems approach, in which individual and occupational/organizational risk factors must be considered. This is different from traditional interventions who place sole responsibility on the employee to manage risks. Considering occupational/organizational risk factors is more efficient as root causes of employee safety and wellness, not just symptoms, are targeted. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states in its robust Implementing an Integrated Approach: Weaving Worker Health, Safety, and Well-Being into the Fabric of Your Organization resource, occupational/organizational risk factors may be root causes of employee stress, linked to employee well-being and safety (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). After all, we know that adverse working conditions can lead to weight gain. Examples of adverse working conditions include sedentary work, shiftwork, long work hours, and certain job stressors (Schulte).

A program which has taken action on integrating employee well-being with health and safety is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) a program called Total Worker Health® (TWH). NIOSH defines TWH as policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being (NIOSH, 2016). A cornerstone of TWH is not only tertiary and secondary prevention, but primary prevention as well. Indeed, employee well-being and the associated practices (such as lifestyle management, health coaching, biometric testing) are centred around primary prevention.

To touch on a specific example of practices, the physical environment can be leveraged to help employees flourish. It is by leveraging the physical environment that specific behaviour change can be more likely for employees. Programs such as the WELL Building Standard and Fitwel are examples of certifying guidelines for the physical environment being conducive to both employee well-being and safety. Fitwel describes this nature of a physical environment being conducive to both employee well-being and safety through its twelve strategies: location, building access, outdoor spaces, entrances and ground floor, stairwells, indoor environments, workspaces, shared spaces, water supply, food services, vending machines and snack bars, and emergency procedures.


The reason why injecting employee well-being through Corporate Social Responsibility can augment an organizations sustainability efforts is because of the culture of health perspective which employee well-being can include. This perspective is more-so about creating healthy workplaces and a culture of health which encourages everyone, including businesses, to maximize good health and well-being for themselves, for others with whom they live and work, for their communities, and for the environment (Harvard).

The Ontario Workplace Health Coalition (OWHC) includes this expanded definition of employee well-being in their Comprehensive Workplace Health (CWH) model for the Organizational Social Responsibility pillar, described as participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families, and other members of the community. In doing so, organizations create shared value (CSV), described as corporate policies and practices that enhance the competitive advantage and profitability of the company while advancing social and economic conditions in the communities in which it sells and operates (The Vitality Group).

An example of a company which has taken action on injecting employee well-being into its sustainability efforts is BSR (Business for Social Responsibility). BSR is a non-profit organization who develops sustainable business strategies. Alongside the RWJF (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) and leading companies, BSR created the Healthy Business Coalition for businesses to invest in health along the value chain for consumers, employees, and communities, thus launching a management approach for healthy business initiatives and establishing healthy businesses. This management approach takes the form of a tool-kit to create a defined path for businesses to enable long-term improvements in the health and well-being of their communities.

The RWJF’s work in this area classifies a culture of health specifically in a Corporate Social Responsibility context as an external culture of health (COH-EXT), defined as environments where individuals and organizations are encouraged to make healthy life choices and where the healthy choice becomes the valued and easy choice. However, the caveat about the value of creating an COH-EXT is that it has not been proved in terms of benefiting stock performance of American companies. In the first and single research trial dedicated to this area, researchers (Goetzel et al.) were not able to support the idea that companies turning their attention to an COH-EXT were able to outperform the average stock market returns. As with the nature of research, further research is needed to find ways to improve the validity and reliability of COH-EXT tools, and examine longer time frames.


The reason why injecting employee well-being through working conditions, human rights, development, and management can augment an organizations sustainability efforts is because of the gateway for employee well-being represented by psychosocial hazards, which the field of psychological health and safety aims to create harmony with. Psychosocial factors are defined as hazards including elements of the work environment, management practices, and/or organizational dimensions that increase the risk to health (Assembling The Pieces). Psychosocial hazards include:

Demands: not enough time, working at a fast pace, emotional demands [working conditions]

Work organization: influence over your work, possibilities of development, commitment, meaningful work [working conditions]

Relationship: recognition, role clarity, leadership [development and management]

Offensive behaviours: discrimination, bullying, harassment [human rights]

In fact, the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) advocates for psychosocial hazards to be addressed before employee well-being initiatives can flourish. The Standard says, “The strategic pillars of a psychological health and safety system are prevention of harm (the psychological safety of employees), promotion of health (maintaining and promoting psychological health), and resolution of incidents or concerns. It has been well demonstrated that it is important to provide a psychologically safe work environment before health promotion endeavours can have significant success.” The scientific thinking behind addressing psychosocial hazards, and thus creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, on the journey to employee well-being, is because of the antithesis of well-being being stress, and a predominant cause of stress involving the workplace, i.e. work-related stress or job stress. In fact, more than 60% of employees experience increased levels workplace stress (Gratton and Scott).

The Standard includes 13 psychosocial hazards can be categorized as:

· Psychological Support

· Organizational Culture

· Clear Leadership and Expectations

· Civility and Respect

· Psychological Competencies and Requirements

· Growth and Development

· Recognition and Reward

· Involvement and Influence

· Workload Management

· Engagement

· Balance

· Psychological Protection

· Protection of Physical Safety

By addressing psychosocial hazards, the result is creating a psychological health and safety management system (PHSMS), defined as an organizational management system consisting of policies, procedures, and practices put in place to assist organizations in creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The goal of a PHSMS is a workplace where everyone can work smart, contribute their best effort, be recognized for their work, and go home at the end of the day with energy left over (On The Agenda).

To conclude, incorporating employee well-being as a ‘elsewhere’ to augment an organizations sustainability efforts, a novel interest or area of opportunity of senior leadership, can make employee well-being more likely to occur and become supported by senior leadership. Employee well-being can be positioned to specifically satisfy factors within the S/social category of ESG. What this writing focused on was the integration of employee well-being and safety, Corporate Social Responsibility and an COH-EXT, and psychological health and safety.


Nathan Kolar,




Nathan helps companies become more productive while simultaneously being humane. #employeehealth #organizationalhealth LinkedIn:

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Nathan Kolar

Nathan Kolar

Nathan helps companies become more productive while simultaneously being humane. #employeehealth #organizationalhealth LinkedIn:

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