Sustainable HRM

It is time for Maltese companies to adopt Sustainable Human Resource Management strategies which treat people with a strong dose of dignity and create win-win opportunities for both parties over the long-term


By Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search - and FENCI Consulting

The loudest word last week was surely ‘Sustainability’. The Government via its Budget 2020 has put sustainability back on the country’s agenda.

My line of work has me orbiting around the HR world of business. Therefore, I see an opportunity for companies to apply sustainability principles not only to the environmental sphere but also to Human Resource Management (HRM). I think there is a real opportunity for companies to craft, deploy and invest in HRM, and talent strategies in general, which adopt a sustainable view of workers/employees.

What exactly do we mean by ‘sustainability’? I believe the Brundtland Commission (1987) provides the best concise definition:

“…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs…” I find it abhorrent when employers see or (worse) treat people as exploitable resources with a sell-by date. In fact, we should stop using the term ‘Human Resources’ since people are not ‘resources’ to be exploited until their usefulness is brought to near zero. Workers/employees are fellow human beings whose purpose in life goes beyond work itself.  

I, therefore, feel that it is time for Maltese companies to adopt Sustainable Human Resource Management strategies which treat people with a strong dose of dignity and create win-win opportunities for both parties over the long-term. If I give you the best years of my working life, I deserve to be treated with proportioned dignity and respect when approaching the end of my peak years and beyond.  

Granted you can’t be CEO for ever; you can’t be a Head or Senior Manager for eternity; but do we have to discard people like expired products. If we care about the environment, we should equally care about people. Let’s bring humanity back to HRM.

Fact is that we spend most of our time at work and therefore we must find a way to put people and their wellbeing at the centre of our business decisions. Burnout, stress, a deficit work-life balance, poor health, etc, are all negative side effects of non-sustainable HR practices. We need to change this norm.

Employing sustainable HRM strategies is particularly relevant in the existing job market which has an ageing population (60+ year olds still fit and able to work), the need to import labour due to labour supply shortages and/or the unsolved pension deficit conundrum.

Ideas that come to mind are the following: (a) the phasing out of ‘hire-and-fire’ policies which can be replaced with parachute payments or training for new skills to workers being made redundant (b) employee vital-health monitoring so as to manage stress, fatigue and depression (c) remuneration equality practices (d) investment in peoples’ ‘eco-literacy’ (e) switching from ‘profit-maximisation’ to ‘long term financial / economic sustainability’ and encouraging firms to do so through preferential taxation structures (f) workplace flexibility especially for parents with young children (0-5 years old). The list goes on but I need to be concise. My point is that introducing an element of sustainability into HRM isn’t too difficult. My random list of examples I think confirms it.

Something else which I think is good practice, particularly as a common approach for businesses, is the commitment to go beyond local employment legislation. To my mind, the law is the bare minimum and a truly sustainable business will invest in long term HRM strategies which allow it to ‘give’ its employees a lot more than the law stipulates or guarantees.

Furthermore, I would prioritise Corporate Responsibility (CR) investments. I think people come first. So if I have €100 to invest in CR money, I think people investments should get preference over any other CR investments. What’s the point of a company planting 500 trees to be greener but then treats its employees/workers like ‘resources’? It doesn’t make sense to me; we are all human beings and owe it to each other to treat people with dignity and a social conscience.

I remember when I read my MBA circa 10 years ago we had a module on ‘Business in Society’ and one of the key learnings was that the bigger a company is, the more responsibility it has to its key stakeholders one of which are its workers/employees. I think this line of thinking has become even more relevant and necessary today. We need socially responsible employers to treat their people with respect, dignity and to actively look out for them.

Let’s put people before trees! Let’s invest in sustainable HRM practices and policies.

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