Over the past decade, the topic of sustainability has been a growing concern in the minds of consumers and producers alike. Much of the current debate centers on Co2 emissions and increased greenhouse gasses in our Earth’s atmosphere, however this conversation is often missing a key piece of the puzzle.
One of the most fundamental aspects of a sustainable organization is the well-being of the workforce that makes up a company and the quality of their everyday lives. Take away the physical infrastructure of a company and it can be rebuilt in time, but take away the people and it will be gone in an instant.
One of the companies pushing the agenda of sustainability at a global level is PCH, a company that offers sustainable product development and supply chain management services for a diverse range of businesses.
As part of a larger series on sustainability, PSFK will be exploring the topic through the lens of the initiatives of PCH and specifically its manufacturing in China detailed in its recently released sustainability report. This article looks at sustainability in the workforce, and how a truly sustainable company provides a place where employees can make a life and not just a living.
High turnover in a workforce is not viable in the long term and can have a detrimental impact on the physical and mental health of staff, which has serious implications for productivity, quality, innovation and customer service. In response to this, PCH has been undertaking a series of initiatives to improve the quality of life of its workforce.
These include the opening of ‘Little Bird’ hotline and libraries, which give factory employees the ability to provide direct feedback and suggestions about their work, as well as access to life training skills outside of their work life.
In addition, PCH has also partnered with Micro Benefits, a social enterprise committed to enhancing frontline workers’ livelihoods while enabling employers to generate cost savings. Clearly, education is a key component of this strategy, but it’s coupled with access to programs that allows workers to take hold and improve their lives.
On this point, Celine Zhai of PCH describes some of the company’s initiatives in greater detail to ensure they maintain a sustainable and happy work force:
“Our factories provide basic living needs to our workers; salary, social insurance, dormitory etc. But beyond that we have Little Bird and Micro Benefits, two independent organizations offering additional support to our workforce. The Little Bird hotline helps us listen to workers suggestions, ideas and even complaints. Little Bird organizes various activities such as museum visits, hiking in the mountains, cycling excursions, table tennis and badminton matches.”
Little Bird also arranges life skills training on topics such as social insurance, labor law, parenthood and personal development. Micro Benefits provides two services; Company IQ, a training platform from which workers can learn relevant life and career development skills and Company Link, a web based social community for our workforce, where workers can see company news, connect with friends and access a discount network.”
Much of the discussion lately surrounding global labor practices has centered on the debate of Made in China vs. Made in America as brand names unto themselves. While arguments can be made on both sides, it is clear that sustainable action needs to begin with progressive manufacturers, working to create a new global standard of practice. As Celine Zhai added:
“Our company cares about our workers, treats everybody as family and wants employees to grow together with the company. We developed the social programs based on [our CEO] Liam’s idea that a successful company is one with a motivated workforce. We are happy when workers get self-development opportunities while in our factories because we want them to have better prospects when they decide to leave.”
In the current climate, we now have an opportunity to foster a new debate about sustainability in the workforce. What is becoming clear is that a sustainable workforce contributes to the well-being of both worker and company. Such a workforce provides employers with the human resources, such as skills, engagement, and retention, they need to generate a profit and to innovate.
Sustainable work practices equip individuals and families with economic resources and opportunities for professional and personal growth, in an atmosphere that allows workers to attend to interests and responsibilities inside and outside of work. Ultimately, sustainable work practices help people find meaning through both work and non-work activities, helping them not only survive, but thrive.
Images by Gareth Brown