Building a strong workforce amidst ‘The Great Resignation’
How ESG can be an opportunity to engage value driven-talent

We’ve all either heard of, or directly felt, the strains of ‘The Great Resignation’ over the last few months. One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us, aside from a fear of shaking hands, has been a newfound appreciation for how we spend our time and ensuring that it aligns with our lifestyle and values.

This sentiment is not only felt by individuals; it’s starting to be understood by organizations. Companies have grown to see that creating a positive work environment is paramount, and many are implementing initiatives that clearly communicate a strong social purpose and ensure their teams are taken care of during times of crisis as part of their Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) strategies. In the last year, employees have ranked their current employer higher on Argyle’s key relationship indicators such as trust, satisfaction, influence, with 71% agreeing that their employer takes care of them, up 2% from 2020. Similarly, 71% know their organization’s social purpose and believe it lives up to this purpose.

This research suggests that organizations that don’t find clear purpose and values alignment with their workforce will fall behind.

Communicate your purpose 

So, how can companies signal their dedication to ESG action to new and prospective talent? Weaving your commitment to environmental and social good into your company’s vision is a strong place to start.

In 2017, Canadian powerhouse Maple Leaf Foods did just that. The company evolved its organizational vision to “become the most sustainable protein company on earth,” a decision made with involvement from over 170 employees. This new blueprint highlights how employees can help turn a vision into a reality, giving them a sense of purpose regardless of their level or role.

Other companies have been following suit. In addition to the research findings cited above, Argyle’s July 2021 ESG Study showed that 74% believe their organization shows leadership in its industry, community, or public domain.

Show up in the day-to-day

While mission and vision might help get new talent in the door, it’s the day-to-day practices and treatment of employees that keeps them there. According to Alison Omens, Chief Strategy Officer of JUST Capital, “Data has always shown that the thing people care the most about is how companies treat their employees. This is measured by multiple metrics, including wages, benefits and security, opportunities for advancement, safety and commitment to equity.”

Understanding that “the only sustainable competitive advantage that any company has is the strength of their workforce,” PayPal, in partnership with JUST Capital, developed the Worker Financial Wellness Initiative, a coalition aimed at ensuring workers’ financial security and health are a C-Suite and investor priority.

After conducting an assessment of its own in 2018, PayPal found employees struggling to keep up with the cost of living, despite market pay alignment. And with that began the company’s series of changes to improve employees’ financial well-being, including lowering the cost of healthcare benefits, making every employee a stockholder, raising wages, and offering new financial coaching programs.

Actionable policies around diversity and inclusion (D&I) are another way employers are putting their commitments into action. Nike, one of the five highest ranked companies for D&I in 2020, advances diverse, inclusive teams through such initiatives as clear targets for representation; educational programs for employees and leaders through institutions such as Northwestern University; and building diversity into its supplier base.

While there are many ways to deliver ESG-focused workforce strategies, they all have two things in common: they are grounded in respect for individuals, and in remove barriers that might stop people from being their most productive, happy and healthy selves.

Adding value under the ‘S’

The ‘S’ is often the hardest part of ESG – the one that with the fewest widely endorsed metrics. As companies struggle to deliver on the social components of ESG, internal policies, diversity and inclusion efforts and employee engagement can provide a path.

As companies meaningfully build out their ESG practices, they can put employees at the heart by

rethinking (or creating) D&I strategies; evaluating compensation structures and benefit programs; assessing development opportunities for teams; and, most important, attaching key metrics and reporting timelines for each, as ‘what gets measured matters’.

Developing these programs and policies can not only make your company more innovative and a better place to work, it could also be your best protection against ‘The Great Resignation.’

About the Author

Ashley Kenley is a Senior Consultant on Argyle’s Corporate and Public Affairs team. She specializes in Sustainability and Indigenous communications, and is also a member of Argyle’s Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) consulting team.

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