Writing about the connection between workplace health practices and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria is a joy for myself. I first wrote about the connection in September 2019, two years ago. I connected workplace health practices and ESG criteria by focusing on the social (S) factor of ESG criteria through three practices: the integration of occupational health and safety, a culture of health perspective which includes social responsibility (a COH-EXT), and a psychological health and safety management system (PHSMS). The link to Part 1 can be found here.
This article, Part 2, builds on the connection between workplace health practices and ESG criteria by first sharing three learning tools for how an individual, such as a workplace health professional, can think about connecting ESG criteria to their work. The latter half of this article expands on the aforementioned three practices into seven, seven practices of workplace health focusing on the social (S) factor of ESG criteria.
Yes, workplace health practices are good for the health of employees themselves and a flourishing workplace culture, and also, workplace health practices can be inputs for ESG criteria to act as a source of good for impact and socially responsible investing (SRI). ESG criteria achieved through workplace health practices with clear key performance indicators (KPIs) are a benefit for social and sustainability-linked bond and loan principles. Albeit, workplace health practices in addition to the social (S) factor, can impact the environmental (E) factor as well, especially when workplace health practices are approached comprehensively as a social determinant of health (SDOH), such as taking the physical or built environment of workspaces into account. Click here for a comprehensive workplace health model by the Ontario Workplace Health Coalition (OWHC).
Three Learning Tools
1. When thinking about creating change at a micro or macro level, a range of facts can exist, such as various personal and environmental factors. The interplay of these factors has been illustrated models such as the socio-ecological model (Kilanowski, 2017). Workplaces are a part of this model and therefore could play a role in creating change towards sustainability efforts through that of ESG criteria.
2. Similarly, when thinking about creating change, a range of individuals or parties can have influence on or be impacted. To discover the range of individuals or parties, a stakeholder analysis (also referred to as a stakeholder registry) can be used. Conducting a stakeholder analysis can increase awareness of the ripple effect of upstream and downstream effects associated with various ways of working and decision-making. Workplace health practices can be an asset for optimizing ways working and decision-making.
3. Measurement can be approached by different types of evaluation. One type of evaluation is process evaluation. Process evaluation is different than that of the typical impact or outcome evaluation, as impact or outcome evaluation both look at assessing the progress or effectiveness in achieving goals. Rather, process evaluation looks at whether or how the activity or indicator has been implemented in the first place, i.e. process evaluation can be used during the operation of the activity or indicator. Process evaluation brings awareness to evaluation which can more so be leading, rather than lagging, and in a sense focus on action and doing the right thing right, rather than fixation on lagging results, compounded by inevitable confounding variables. Prioritizing process evaluation can support the implementation of workplace health practices.
Seven Workplace Health Practices
1. Healthy work — manifested as psychosocial risk factors in the workplace and the domain of psychological health and safety. Canada has a voluntary Standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003–13), and as of 2021, there is an ISO Standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace (ISO 45003:2021). Similarly, healthy work can overlap governance and sound project management practices, acting as a form of “well-being management”. Click here for a Well-Being Management Playbook.
2. Healthy workspaces — thinking of the physical or built environment of where one works, healthy workspaces takes into account buildings as well as worksites. This is about doing no harm to employee health, incorporating the natural environment into a working day, and making the healthy choice the easy choice through behavioural nudges. The inverse of a healthy workspace can be considered by what is referred to as sick building syndrome. Fitwel and the WELL Building Institute are two examples of certification systems for new builds and existing design spaces. See below for an image on health performance indicators (HPI’s) from Healthy Buildings (Macomber and Allen, 2020).
3. Healthy community — organizations can be helpful in providing talent and resources to give back to their communities and lend a hand to local public health departments. A term being used in this context is an external culture of health, COH-EXT. Practical means of action for healthy communities include employee volunteering opportunities, hosting placement/co-op students, having a charter/pledge for a cause, and sponsoring community initiatives. Check out this resource for Seven Ways Businesses Can Align with Public Health for Bold Action and Innovation, and further, The Healthy Business Coalition.
4. Healthy disclosure — organizations who collect data can repurpose data for good to increase trust, for both employees and also public-facing stakeholders. Doing so, and using employee data responsibly, can be an aspect of occupational health and safety in a virtual way of working and organizational structure. Insights from the private sector of organizations into constructs like customer profiles and buying behaviors can be used to create benchmarks, and partnering with outside researchers and policy makers can create value for a broader audience.
5. Healthy workforce — providing healthcare benefits (health insurance) aligned and in support of wellness (health promotion). This is about lowering barriers to care for employees when they need it most. Employees can be empowered by being given a selection of actions, in the context of health, to be their most productive and creative selves, achieving sustained utility in terms of their performance. Click here for an article on exploring employee benefits and workplace health. For best practices in developing and maintaining a healthy workforce for health promotion, two entities in North America are Wellness Works Canada and the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).
6. Healthy impact — for accountability to all business stakeholders through verified social and environmental performance. In a sense, doing well by doing good — business as a conduit for good. Public transparency and legal accountability can be vetted through the B Corp certification (B Impact Assessment) and following Conscious Capitalism principles (higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership, and conscious culture). To learn more about workplace health and B Corps, click here. For example, a question within the B Impact Assessment relating to business models is:
Is your company’s business model focused on achieving SDG 3 — Good Health and Well-Being?
a) Our products/services contribute to the positive development of individual health and well-being (wellness programs, sporting equipment)
b) Our products/services support healthcare through improving the efficiency or access to healthcare systems (health insurance, drug tracking, hospital equipment, etc.)
c) Our products/services directly provide healthcare that cures or prevents illness/disability (e.g. solutions to protect animals from illnesses, food supplements to reduce vitamin & mineral efficiencies, medicines, etc.)
d) Our products reduce health risk, such as by producing healthy alternatives to products that are traditionally unhealthy or toxic to consumers (healthy food alternatives that meet rigorous government standards, BPA free, etc.)
e) Our products/services use less toxic/hazardous chemicals or materials than market alternatives (i.e. non-toxic cleaners, organic food, integrated pest management for agriculture
f) Our products/services remediate environmental damage after discharges to air, land, or water (i.e. brownfield remediation, oil spill clean-up)
7. Healthy marketing — leveraging purpose-driven marketing, related to the respective product or service. Doing so, a business can be a beacon of light setting the tone and creating an image or community individuals feel belonging to. For health specifically, public health that is, businesses can implement strategic communications campaigns that emphasize the importance of [holistic] health, again, related to their respective product or service. Additional strategies and techniques for healthy marketing can be found here.
The purpose of ESG and Workplace Health — Part 2 has been to share how workplace health can be approached from multiple practices in order to be inputs for ESG criteria, focusing on the social (S) factor of ESG criteria. Doing so can be of benefit for impact and socially responsible investing (SRI).
Looking where or how to start? Taking health considerations into account for and when policymaking.
All the best.
Nathan Kolar, https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathankolar/