Can working less and changing company culture really save the planet?

The climate crisis is all over the news. With the recent COP26 conference making headlines and world leaders making pledges to protect our environment, it’s becoming more apparent that business leaders and employees alike are concerned about this.

Commitment to sustainability and protecting the planet is something that we expect will become more important to candidates. This means that employers will be expected to vocalise their commitment to the environment and reducing their carbon footprint. Larger corporations are already expected to publish their plans to become carbon neutral, but as environmental issues become more critical to the talent pool, smaller businesses will have to follow suit. This means that sustainability and the environment will form a vital part of EVPs.

Experts are currently discussing how businesses can become carbon neutral or at least cut down their emissions. For example, there has been talk of remote work reducing commutes, but this also means higher energy consumption in our homes. Plus, it could lead to employees from further afield having to fly to join team meetings.

There is also a lot of discussion around consumption and the amount we work; with many suggesting that working less could be the secret to saving the planet. But is this true?

An article published by the financial times, Norwegian research from 2016 suggests at least 60% of all greenhouse gases can be traced back to consumption. They argue that if the developed world worked less, we would earn less and spend less, helping the planet as a result. This supports the argument for a 4-day working week, which has been pushed since the pandemic. Not only would the extra day help employees, wellbeing but it could help save the planet too. In fact, research published recently by the environmental organisation Platform London showed that moving to a four-day, 32-hour working week (with no reduction in pay for workers) would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year. It would reduce the amount of commuting, the amount of energy used by offices, reduce the need for office supplies and waste and also could give employees valuable time to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. Right now, time is so limited we’re all guilty of cutting corners. To put it into perspective, experts believe that a four-day working week would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 21.3%, which is more than the total carbon footprint of Switzerland and would be the same as taking 27 million cars off the road. It would mean UK employees would drive 558 million miles less every week. Crazy right?

When you think about it, we spend most of our lives working, so it makes sense that this is when we damage the planet most. In addition, there are arguments to say that this downtime will help employees reduce burnout and focus on their health, they’ll be less stressed, and their mental wellbeing will improve tenfold. So not only is it in the best interest of the environment, but for employees too.

However, the 4-day working week solution comes with one glaringly obvious issue. It depends on how employees use this extra time. In an ideal world, we’d like to think everyone will use this time to take care of themselves, get out in the fresh air and engage in environmentally friendly activities in a commitment to sustainability. In reality, the chances of this are pretty unlikely. If they catch flights every long weekend, use more energy within their homes during this time or even spend the extra day buying items which will lead to excess waste, then the theory of giving employees more time is counterproductive. If consumption contributes to the climate crisis, is giving workers more time off work going to help, or will they spend more?

Then there’s the issue of salary. Experts are arguing you shouldn’t reduce pay for employees when shifting to a four-day working week. Of course, in an ideal world, with the cost of living rising, wages would stay the same. But, is this realistic for employers? It depends entirely on the nature of the business and if workers can sustainably complete their workload in four days without dropping any productivity.

Remote work could be an obvious solution, but then again, there are flaws in this too. If we’re all in our homes, of course, we won’t be commuting or wasting energy in the office, but our energy bills will rise as all employees will be using more to heat their homes and work from their own spaces than if we were all in the same place. There’s also the issue of hiring employees on a global scale. Remote work allows you to expand your talent pool and hire individuals regardless of location. But what happens in the instances when you want to bring your teams together? Surely this will happen sooner or later, which could mean international flights or travel from further afield, which will offset your plans to be net-0.

There is no simple solution to your business helping to solve the climate crisis. But what is clear is that employers must do their bit if they wish to appeal to a new generation of talent. As the climate crisis continues to dominate headlines and becomes more of a concern for talent, employers need to work hard to show their commitment to the environment and vocalise it as part of their EVP. A vague stance will no longer be enough if you wish to entice top talent.

Talent Works are experienced in helping companies build and promote EVPs. Using the latest market research techniques, we can find out what’s truly important to candidates and get a real-life perception of you as an employer. We can then use this information as a guide to creating employer brand messaging and digital attraction campaigns to help you recruit and retain top talent in a competitive market.

Contact our team and start your conversation to find out more about how we can help with your talent acquisition challenges.