The Power of Purpose: How Sustainable Business Impacts Employee Wellbeing

Nothing puts employee health and well-being in the spotlight quite like a global pandemic. COVID-19 fundamentally changed how some companies...

Nothing puts employee health and well-being in the spotlight quite like a global pandemic. COVID-19 fundamentally changed how some companies manage their people, emphasising employer responsibility for mental and physical health. And the benefits aren’t just for employees. Many companies have reported the positive impact this approach has had on their business or brand. Research shows that happier employees are more productive, and companies with robust well-being policies report higher profits.  

With the average UK employee working 36.7 hours each week, it’s little wonder that the workplace significantly impacts a person’s mental and physical health. Benenden Health found that 58% of employees felt their jobs had negatively impacted their wellbeing. And it goes both ways. 

Personal problems can also bleed into an employee’s professional life, leading to a decline in focus and productivity and unhappiness, disengagement, or burnout. Companies are also likely to have a higher turnover of staff. 

Employers have several options for boosting employee well-being. Each one should be tailored to address any specific areas within the business that need improvement or overhaul. This can include changing systems or processes so employees can manage their workload more effectively or efficiently. It could be extra training or additional support for managers. It can be rewarding achievements and accomplishments within the business or creating open feedback loops so employees have a safe space to raise concerns or suggestions. It could allow greater job flexibility like remote or hybrid working. Wellbeing can also have a physical or mental health focus. Some offices have free nutritious meals or ECO:PODs like the one below.  

But with the rise of eco-awareness and activism, can companies use a sustainable approach to improve employee wellbeing?  


What do we mean by sustainable business?  

Sustainable business has several definitions, but for this article, we’re referring to balancing the needs of the business with wider environmental responsibility. Harvard Business School describes it as “doing business without negatively impacting the environment, community, or society as a whole.” 


What do we mean by employee wellbeing?  

Employee wellbeing concerns the mental, emotional, physical and financial health of people in a workplace. There is some criticism of this approach as an example of “wokeism in the workplace”, but several large studies suggest employee wellbeing benefits both the employee and the employer. The Harvard Business Review reported on one study that found disengaged employees accounted for an 18% drop in productivity, a 16% drop in profitability, a 49% increase in workplace accidents, and a 37% increase in absenteeism.  Another study by employee review website Glassdoor found that happier employees often led to a higher stock price too.  


How sustainable business impacts employee wellbeing and why that’s important 


Employees want to work for sustainable companies


Eco-Anxiety is rising in the UK and abroad 

We mentioned earlier that happiness doesn’t start and end when someone clocks in. Everyone brings their personal life to work occassionally. It’s almost impossible not to.

That’s why it’s important for companies to have robust and dynamic wellbeing policies that can support employees even when the issues affecting them are external to their workload. Climate change is one example of this. Media coverage of rising global temperatures, extreme weather and climate-related events has exploded in recent years, and understandably, this is having an impact on people’s mental health. According to one study by Cardiff University, 45% of those asked said they were worried about the impact of climate change on the UK.    

There’s even a name for it now: eco-anxiety. Champion Health describes it as ‘ a chronic fear of environmental doom, caused by watching the seemingly slow and irreversible impact of climate change.” 

Therapists have reported a rise in the number of people suffering from some form of environmental anxiety, but the subject hit the mainstream news recently when Canadian wildfires led to New York (and other US cities) being blanketed in a thick smoke-like fog. If you’ve seen photographs, then you’ll no doubt have been struck by how Hollywood dystopian the images look.  



New Yorkers had to wear face masks and use air filtration systems. They were told to stay indoors and keep windows closed. Mental health professional Elizabeth Green told the Guardian that “many of my clients have wondered if they are staring into the beginning of the end of a way of life,” she said. “There is grief associated with climate change, as people adjust to so much loss.” 

Force of Nature reports that 70% of young people feel ‘hopeless’ about climate change.  

And these are the people who are either entering the workplace or getting ready to. 

Sustainable design boosts wellbeing 

Developer Brookfield Properties and architecture studio Foster and Partners commissioned a report of 3,000 UK office workers and found that 93% of people working in an “environmentally friendly office” feel happier in their job. Interestingly, the report also found that happiness in the office dropped to around 55% if natural lighting and recycling facilities weren’t available.  

Most of us understand the important role our immediate physical environment can play on morale and mood. According to website Haiken, The Global Human Spaces report found that 33% of office workers say that office design affects their decision about whether to work for a company.  

Poorly ventilated offices aren’t just uninspiring places to work but they can also create or exacerbate respiratory issues or skin irritation caused by indoor pollutants like cleaning products, plastics, carpets, etc.  

One office design trend that’s becoming more popular is that of the green office. According to Stanmore, A green office is a workspace which takes its impact on the environment into account by introducing sustainability measures. This could be in energy-efficient measures like LED lighting or solar arrays. It could be recycling facilities, using sustainable and eco-friendly design materials, etc., or including something like The ECO:POD that turns human power into clean electricity.

According to one study by Harvard University, green office designs can improve employee sleep quality by 6%, cognitive functioning by 26% and reduce sickness-related absences by 30%.  

Biophilic design is another design trend that's growing in popularity. Vantage Fit describes it as the human affinity for working in ‘living systems, bonding with nature.’ Others have described it as bringing nature into the office. Biophilic designs use plants for air purity and aesthetics, natural shapes and forms and the use of water. It’s been shown to boost productivity by around 20 and reduce presenteeism.  

Caring about the environment is no longer a niche pursuit. Climate activism is now more mainstream and making waves in the professional world. Businesses looking to attract top talent or retain current employees may have little choice but to incorporate sustainability on a deeper level.

Of course, many could argue that they have a moral responsibility to do this anyway, but it’s also an opportunity to build community within the workplace, allowing employees and employers to align values for everyone’s benefit.  

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