Business leaders want S in ESG strategy to focus on employee wellbeing

“Once-a-year engagement or satisfaction surveys provide useful indicators, but they need to be underpinned by an environment that creates the ongoing conditions for employee voice”

The majority of business leaders want S in ESG (Environment Social Governance) strategy to focus on employee wellbeing over the next 12 months, reveals new research.*

The new study among UK business leaders found that only 4 in 10 say culture, purpose and employee experience – important contributors to wellbeing – form part of the S in their current ESG considerations.

This supports growing understanding that, when it comes to employee wellbeing, organisations need to level up “fixing work” (culture, belonging, employee experience) with the current, primary, focus on “fixing the individual” (mindfulness, resilience training, wellbeing apps).**

Balancing making the ‘world’ a better place, with making ‘work’ a better place
Almost 6 in 10 (57%) leaders say they want more attention paid inside the organisation, to employee wellbeing as part of S in ESG strategy, followed by diversity (37%) and inclusion (34%). These results come ahead of traditional factors outside of the organisation, such as community involvement (26%).

Limited reflection of employee interests in current ESG strategy
While the majority (61%) of leaders say they use employee insights to help inform ESG strategy, 1 in 5 (22%) say employee interests are not reflected in their current ESG strategy. Of those that use employee insights, employee engagement and satisfaction surveys represent the main insight gathering tools used.

Suzanne Clarkson, Associate at HarknessKennett, comments: “Employee wellbeing as the foundation of S in ESG strategy makes perfect sense when you consider the view that if you get the employee experience right all the other S in ESG elements can be built on top of that; such as customer experience and community involvement.

“However, while this research shows that employee wellbeing might be considered an important part of S in ESG strategy by the majority of leaders, employee experience, culture and purpose are not. This mirrors an important disconnect highlighted over recent months by various industry bodies and academics, which are leading an evolving movement for organisations to focus on fixing work, not just on fixing the individual.

“S in ESG might well become the vehicle that helps accelerate this movement, getting wellbeing firmly on to the board agenda; as both an outcome of a supportive, purpose-driven culture and as a contributory factor in recruitment, retention and productivity. But wellbeing is subjective. And disconnects will arguably continue to feature if it’s not informed by employees. Once-a-year engagement or satisfaction surveys provide useful indicators, but they need to be underpinned by an environment that creates the ongoing conditions for employee voice, to ensure that genuine contribution and challenge by employees is an inbuilt feature of working life.”

*Opinium research, commissioned by Coach House Communications, in collaboration with HarknessKennett, based on a representative sample of 403 UK-based senior decision makers in companies with 1,000+ employees, field dates 5-12 May 2023

**Business in the Community (BITC), Prioritise people: unlock the value of a thriving workforce, April 2023,

University of Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, Estimating effects of individual-level workplace mental wellbeing interventions:

Cross-sectional evidence from the UK, April 2023

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