Business Leadership Today

What Is Employee Sustainability?


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

We hear the term sustainability often, particularly in reference to the environment and the practices that we can undertake to mitigate future risks to it and our own negative impact on the environment.

But employee sustainability has also become a growing concern as the number of older individuals has increased over the last five decades and is projected to continue to grow, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employee sustainability is the current and future ability of workers to remain in the workforce and is determined by a healthy organizational culture that supports and values employees. A sustainable employee culture keeps employees engaged to the level needed to perform their jobs capably.  

In this article, we will talk about what employee sustainability looks like, why it’s important, the benefits of employee sustainability policies, and why you should make employee sustainability a part of your organization’s culture. 

What Employee Sustainability Looks Like

What exactly does employee sustainability look like? What makes an organization’s culture and work environment a sustainable one that both allows and inspires employees to thrive?

According to a study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management, that examined three indicators of employee sustainability—employability, work engagement, and affective commitment—intrinsic job value was strongly tied to these three indicators for employees of all ages. 

An age-supportive workplace climate was also an important factor for engagement and commitment for older employees. 

Organizations that are concerned with employee sustainability recognize the need to create environments where employees remain engaged, perform at a high level, and experience job satisfaction, job commitment, and cultural buy-in throughout the duration of their employment.

This is what a culture of employee sustainability looks like: a diverse workforce that is committed, engaged, performing well, always learning, satisfied with their jobs, and culturally aligned with their organization.  

In order for companies to create an environment in which employee sustainability remains a part of their business strategy, they need to be dedicated to fostering an organizational culture that meets the needs of all employees.   

This includes working with employees to improve their health and well-being, providing employees with opportunities to develop and progress personally and professionally, recognizing employees for their contributions, and helping employees feel like they are making a difference with the work they do.   

One of the most basic, and essential, components of any employee sustainability culture is competitive benefits offerings. This will affect how adept your organization is at attracting and retaining talented employees.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an attractive benefits package should include a comprehensive health program that is sustainable for current and future employees. 

Rising healthcare costs and the rising cost of retirement are issues that will likely not abate anytime soon and can have a significant financial impact on companies. More importantly, they can have devastating effects on employees.

The ways a company decides to approach solutions to these problems are key to employee sustainability.

Providing employees with great health insurance benefits, as well as continually and consistently fostering employee health and wellness in your organization, may be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that exceptional leaders recognize they must meet for employee sustainability.

This is why a strong culture of care that supports employee health and mental well-being will be focused on maintaining a sustainable work environment for its workers. But it isn’t just about health and wellness.

Creating a learning culture within your organization that makes it a top priority to foster ongoing development of employees is also a vital part of employee sustainability. If employees don’t feel like they are learning and growing in their jobs and in their profession, it will not be a sustainable situation for them. 

In a culture of constant learning, employees improve their abilities and skills so that they are more easily able to adapt and evolve in the workforce. This helps them build their futures on a strong foundation of knowledge and grow along with the organization.

Why Employee Sustainability Is Important

As the workforce ages, more emphasis is being placed on the importance of sustainable employment, but workers of all age groups, including those just entering the workforce, are making employee sustainability a priority in their job search.

More and more job seekers are looking to join companies that are concerned not only with environmental sustainability but are dedicated to building a culture of employee sustainability within their organizations as well.

Among these job seekers are highly-skilled, talented workers who are in the enviable position of being selective about where they work. Evidence suggests that talented, high-performing employees are up to eight times productive than average ones.

A company with an organizational culture that is attractive to these top performers and recruitment efforts that demonstrate the organization’s commitment to ensuring a sustainable work environment for employees gives them a competitive advantage.

As attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent are all essential for an organization’s success, employee sustainability is an extremely important facet of overall organizational culture which will only grow in importance in the coming years.

Aside from the ever-present need to attract and retain talented, engaged employees, succession planning is becoming a more pressing concern as experienced workers retire.

In industries where record numbers of retirements are expected (known as “the silver tsunami”), there is an unprecedented talent loss that can affect a company’s ability to hire, train, retain, and engage incoming workers in order to prevent the loss of industry knowledge and successfully pass that expertise on to new workers.

If an organization’s goal is to create an authentic work environment where all employees flourish, it should consider its impact on the local and global community, as well as the ways in which it can continue to care for its employees sustainably. 

Benefits of a Culture of Employee Sustainability

Two of the obvious benefits of having a culture of employee sustainability in your organization is employee engagement and retention. 

High rates of turnover threaten a company’s success. The frequent and regular loss of employees causes significant financial losses for companies due to the cost of replacing employees and loss of efficiency.

Low engagement and active disengagement are also threats. As those Gallup State of the Workplace reports keep telling us, there is an employee engagement crisis. Employee engagement decreased from 22% in 2019 to 20% in 2020.

These drops in engagement can significantly impact retention, performance, and organizational culture. However, this is not the only strong indicator that employees need their organizations to do more to take care of them.

The same Gallup report shows that employees’ daily stress levels increased from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. The increase in anxiety and burnout is fueling disengagement and job dissatisfaction.

Employers whose health and wellness programs are aimed at preventing disease and injury, improving mental health, and lowering job-related anxiety and stress can help maintain the health of workers throughout their working lifetime.

When employees work in an organization that fosters an environment that will help them succeed well into the future by ensuring they are healthy and happy, they feel more engaged with the work they are doing and feel more valued by their employers.

This is vital to the future success of any organization.

According to Forbes, “While retention is a cornerstone of success and healthy work culture, the cultivation of sustainable employees protects the longevity of a business while driving it toward future success.”

Creating a culture of employee sustainability can improve retention, but it can also be one of the best and most meaningful investments you can make in your organization’s future. 

Workers of all ages will continue to seek out employers who provide great benefits, professional development opportunities, and a positive organizational culture. How do employers ensure they are able to offer these things to employees in the future?

The ability of your organization to endure, to be successful, to pass its cultural DNA of care on to the next generation of leadership depends on how sustainable your organization’s current practices are now and in the coming decades. 

Why You Should Foster a Culture of Employee Sustainability

It’s important to keep this in mind: Sustainable employment requires sustainable leadership that is dedicated to caring for employees. It is a caring leader’s job to unite employees to create a strong organizational culture that makes caring the norm and work-life balance a priority.

If it isn’t already, employee sustainability should be part of your organization’s culture of care. It isn’t just about retention statistics and the bottom line, it’s also about caring enough about your employees that you create a sustainable work environment in which they can thrive.

Employee sustainability should be just as important as environmental sustainability to any organization that truly wants to demonstrate care for its employees and have a positive impact on the world. 

This sort of stewardship of employees is, by extension, stewardship of the organization, and stewardship of the world we live in. 

As environmental sustainability practices affect the ability of the earth to thrive, employee sustainability affects the ability of employees to thrive in their work environments. I highly recommend that, as a leader, you consider what you are doing today to ensure your workers are able to thrive in the future. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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