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Human sustainability demand reaches critical level—and a disconnect: 4 of 5 CEOs feel pressured to improve efforts, but employees have doubts

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Public Relations

Demand for human sustainability in the workplace—where an organization actionably creates value for people as human beings—has never been higher, with the majority of the C-suite, including around 8 out of 10 CEOs, saying they’re feeling pressured to make public commitments of support and action planning, according to new research from Deloitte

It makes sense, as the initiative has multiple benefits for both employees and companies, including better health and well-being, stronger skills and greater employability, good jobs, opportunities for advancement, progress toward equity, increased belonging, and heightened connection to purpose. And managers say they’re on board. So what’s the issue? Employees aren’t seeing as much commitment as leaders are claiming.

human sustainability

The firm’s new report, The Important Role of Leaders in Advancing Human Sustainability, in collaboration with independent research firm Workplace Intelligence, uncovers growing pressure for companies to prioritize human sustainability. Now in its third year, the survey reveals that this pressure to improve human sustainability is coming from multiple directions: from employees (82 percent), customers (78 percent), investors (78 percent), partners (77 percent) and board members (77 percent).

Leaders are largely embracing this pressure: 88 percent would like their pay to be tied to human sustainability metrics, and 71 percent believe their company’s leadership should change if they aren’t advancing human sustainability. Around 3 out of 4 executives agree that human sustainability is an enterprise risk that should be measured and monitored (73 percent) and discussed at the board level (75 percent).

Doing well by workers and the world can offer long-term benefits for both people and organizations, but to help companies move their human sustainability efforts forward and reap these benefits, leaders should increase their understanding of worker realities at their own organization.

human sustainability

Key findings from the research include:

8 of 10 (82 percent) execs believe their company is advancing human sustainability, but just 56 percent of workers agree

In fact, some leaders fail to recognize that for most people surveyed, work is a negative rather than a positive force in their lives. Around 90 percent of executives believe that working for their company has a positive effect on employee well-being, skills development, career advancement, inclusion and belonging, and their sense of purpose and meaning. However, just 60 percent (or fewer) of workers agree.

Workforce well-being—a key component of human sustainability—continues to need focus, but many executives may not be aligned with what their worker sentiment reveals

Only around 1 out of 3 workers say their physical (34 percent), mental (32 percent), financial (35 percent) and social (31 percent well-being improved last year. However, at least 7 out of 10 executives believe these well-being dimensions improved for their people.

Around 7 out of 10 workers say if their organization increased its commitment to human sustainability, this would improve their overall experience at work

This commitment would increase employees’ engagement and job satisfaction (71 percent), productivity (70 percent), desire to stay with their company long-term (70 percent), and trust in their company’s leadership (69 percent).

8 of 10 (82 percent) execs say companies should be required to publicly report their human sustainability metrics

However, 81 percent admit their own organization isn’t doing enough when it comes to making public commitments around human issues. Around a third (32 percent) of these leaders say this is because the goals they could realistically accomplish are trivial and they’re embarrassed to make public commitments around them. 

human sustainability

A significant majority of executives (88 percent) would like their compensation to be tied to human sustainability metrics. Remarkably, nearly half (47 percent) would like at least 75 percent of their compensation to be linked to these metrics. What’s more, 61 percent of the C-suite say they’d accept a pay cut to work for a company that is advancing human sustainability. 

“It’s promising that so many of today’s leaders are willing to take ownership of human sustainability,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, in a news release. “However, some executives don’t realize that their own employees are dealing with a suboptimal work experience. The disconnects uncovered in our research should be a call to action for leaders as they embark on their mission to create greater value for all stakeholders within the broader human ecosystem.”

“Embracing human sustainability can have benefits for both business and people,” said Paul Silverglate, U.S. Executive Accelerators leader and Deloitte’s US Technology Sector vice chair, in the release. “Today’s C-suite has an opportunity to help ensure it is prioritized at the highest levels of their organizations, helping them become more rewarding and productive places to work.”

human sustainability

“There is an incredible momentum building for organizations to make meaningful change,” added Jen Fisher, retired managing director at Deloitte US, in the release. “But leaders should move away from a legacy mindset that centers on extracting value from people and instead embrace the concept of human sustainability, which can support the long-term, collective well-being of individuals, organizations and society.” 

Read the full report here.

Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence in February and March 2024 among 3,150 employees, managers and C-level executives across the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. 

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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