By Maggie Biscarr, HERO Board Member

As I’m making plans to attend HERO’s Fall Forum on “Doing Well by Doing Good: How Responsible Organization are Addressing Societal Challenges” this September in Salt Lake City, Utah (hint, hint!), I’m reflecting on our Spring Think Tank in May, and how the discussions we had about “Measures that Matter to Employers AND Employees” are relevant to my own life, now more than ever. I am, for the first time in a post-COVID world, shopping for my next professional endeavor. As I pore over job descriptions, company profiles, and annual Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reports, I am searching for a number of criteria, not the least of which are the mental and physical health offerings. I want to know how well my future employer will take care of me and my family, how they are taking care of the planet, and how they stack up against others. These measures matter to me and, it turns out, to entire generations of workers. One of the most startling statistics cited during our two-day discussion is that a whopping 80% of Gen-Z and millennials in the workforce are willing to leave a job after the first six months if it doesn’t live up to their standards. With ~26-thousand millennials in the workforce, there is little doubt that the measures of total worker health matter, or should matter, to employers as well.

ESG measures have certainly gotten a lot of press of late and have been the subject of much controversy. They have been politicized and scrutinized and those who advocate for them as important to employees, consumers, shareholders, and other key stakeholders have been accused of being “Planet Savers” and “Woke Capitalist Watchdogs.” But are they? And, if not, what are they and how do companies and their stakeholders best measure and leverage them to make positive, systemic change? Do all ESG measures matter to all employers? What drives a focus on one letter or the other? Luckily, during our Spring Think Tank, we had a host of experts at the virtual table to take a deep dive into some of these questions and to explore the connection between ESG measures and workforce health and well-being (HWB) performance measures.

We jumped right into it on Day One, seeking to explore the accusations of planet saving wokeness, then had a robust discussion about human sustainability and the “S” of ESG followed by a deep dive into the search for meaning in organizations and the ongoing debate about whether or not it is profitable to invest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and/or ESG policies. We ended panel discussions on a hopeful note with a presentation about the latest developments in the development and measurement of sustainable workplaces designed to ensure that workers not only survive but thrive.

Though difficult to boil down such a rich discussion, my key takeaways from Day One are as follows:

  • Despite the rhetoric, ESG measures appear to be here to stay, and it may be more a matter of which accountability measures companies choose to prioritize and invest in, and which they view as material to their business.
  • Some companies are missing big opportunities to capture value AND make social impact by ignoring areas they see as not their responsibility, or inappropriate to focus on. These companies would do well to learn from purpose-led companies that have invested time and energy into integrating purpose into their core business, setting off the “virtuous cycle of value creation.”
  • When determining which ESG metrics are critical for them to report on, companies should define which stakeholders they are accountable to – this will inform what is “material to the business” and to their stated goals.
  • Current evidence is that ESG factors are more correlated today with stock prices than earnings are.
  • There is no single bottom line in either traditional or ESG accounting; a new and balanced approach to measurement is needed – one that includes more than just the numbers.
  • Health and well-being measures are more well-defined and should stand alongside ESG measures.
  • Climate change is on everyone’s mind and 70% of employees are worried about it, thus employers must be too. Employers must take action on ESG principles and can offer employees opportunities to engage in (and better understand) company sustainability efforts, through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and otherwise.
  • Burnout is rampant in the wake of COVID and self-care is valued over productivity; if employer values don’t live up to expectations, the vast majority of the workforce is willing to leave.
  • Employers should consider these values as related to all three phases: Recruitment, Retention, and Retirement.
  • Best practices and holistic approaches that include mental, physical, and social measurements and approaches (such as Fitwel, and Harvard’s “Thriving from Work” diagnostic tool) are required to ensure workplace policies, programs, and physical spaces are designed to contribute to total worker health and the health of the organizations they work for.

On Day Two, we dug a little deeper into some of the challenges and strategies related to measuring health equity and addressing social determinants of health, examined the pros and cons of including critical physical activity and nutrition measures as ESG standards, and had some fun whilst learning about the importance of measuring fun as part of planned work activities. Highlights from day two included:

  • Attracting and retaining a healthy, diverse workforce is necessary and may require increased focus on health equity measures and gap populations to ensure both basic and higher-level needs are met across all employee populations.
  • Social determinants of health considerations are foundational in relation to employee well-being and performance.
  • The voice of the employee is vital to designing programs that will meet their needs, and while it is challenging to get feedback from those traditionally left out (often people of color), it is critical and must be done intentionally and thoughtfully and followed up with consistent engagement/action.
  • There is substantial momentum behind the Physical Activity Alliance (PAA) multi-stakeholder, multi-pronged initiative to make physical activity assessment, prescription, and referral a standard of care in the U.S. healthcare system. If this happens, there will be standardized measures for benchmarking and assessing progress and health impact.
  • In response to the rising prevalence of chronic lifestyle and diet-related diseases, as well as a growing awareness of the importance of SDOH and health inequities, rising national, global, and personal economic burdens, and the climate change emergency, there is a call to action to merge health and wellness with ESG goals, initiatives, and metrics.
  • If sustainability is integrated into U.S. Dietary Guidelines, nutrition will by proxy be integrated into ESG frameworks. This is a space to watch!
  • We should not forget the importance of including and measuring FUN! While fun may seem like a “nice to have,” it can actually be a great way to increase employee engagement and well-being, and thus, the company bottom line.

So much food for thought. One thing is for sure, the movements to improve the health and wellness of people and the planet are gaining traction and are here to stay. There is plenty of good work to be done, and luckily, some of the best and brightest thought leaders, researchers, and practitioners are on the case. And with that, I hope you will all join me/them in Salt Lake City this September for more great discussions, debates, and, most importantly, lots of HERO Forum fellowship and FUN!


©2024 Health Enhancement Research Organization ‘HERO’


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