Human Resources and Sustainability
Pay, Benefits, and Labor Relations
Pay and Benefits Policies
Pay and benefits policies promoted by the organization will have a great social and economic impact on employees and communities. For example, company policies and practices can transfer the burden to and add stress on local social services systems as a result of inadequate wages and benefits. The sustainable organization would benefit from ensuring the compensation structure is fair and equitable.
The ability to ensure the fairness of compensation is a difficult task. Sustainable companies want to attract the best employees by paying above-market compensation yet remain fair to existing employees with tenure. The organization should conduct pay studies annually to ensure programs remain competitive and implement an annual review cycle for ongoing monitoring.
Fair pay can be viewed internally and externally to the organization.
Internal equity exists when the employees generally perceive fairness in the pay structure across employees.
External equity refers to the perceived fairness of pay relative to what other employers are paying for similar labor.
Managers can access salary data through online compensation surveys, such as those available at HR.com,  or Salary.com,  which provide information by location, industry, position, and work experience.
Companies have a choice to develop compensation systems based upon an elitist system (that which establishes different compensation plans for different employee groups) or an egalitarian system (having most employees under the same equal compensation plan).
An egalitarian system is beneficial to highly competitive environments where companies are innovative, risk-taking, and continuously investing in new technologies and projects, which is typically how sustainable companies work. This type of compensation system provides more flexibility in employment by creating fewer differences between employee grades, creating a flatter organizational chart, and minimizing status-dependent perquisites.
Fewer differences in compensation plans should result in increased task accomplishment and cooperation among employees by reducing barriers.
Transparency is a cornerstone of the sustainability movement. Even though companies can be transparent in accounting and financial reporting, transparency can also be achieved by communicating openly about policies and practices related to compensation and employment practices.
When compensation practices are hidden from employees, they tend to perceive more underpayment than is actually real. Employees tend to compare their pay and benefits to other employees and may inflate any discrepancies they believe they see, thereby causing more dissatisfaction, less productivity, increased absenteeism, and turnover. Transparent compensation plans make management more fair in administering the compensation.
Sustainable organizations should also ensure they pay living wages rather than minimum wages. Minimum wage is set by legislation to be a minimum dollar amount per hour that must be paid by law.
By contrast, living wage is the minimum income necessary for a person to attain a specified quality of life given the location and other economic factors where the person is employed.
Living wages are generally higher than minimum legal wages. Sustainable firms will recognize the value of living wages in maintaining a productive and sustainable workforce.
In addition to providing living wages, sustainable businesses provide important benefits necessary for employee quality of life. Standard benefits packages, such as health insurance, dental insurance, and paid sick leave, are supplemented with additional benefits addressing work-family balance. Employees are considered to be more satisfied and productive with increased quality of work and home and community life.
Sustainable organizations tend to establish work initiatives such as child care centers at the job, time off (leave) from work to care for sick children or elderly family members, paternity leave for male employees, flextime work, telecommuting, job sharing, tax breaks for commuting, and other employee-friendly benefits.
An imperative for a sustainable organization’s human resource department is flexibility. One strategy would be to hire contingent workers-employees hired to deal with temporary increases in workload or to complete work that is not part of the core requirements.
Contingent workers are generally the first to be dismissed when an organization experiences a downturn. On the one hand, contingent employees provide protection for the full-time employee who might otherwise have been laid off during the downturn. On the other hand, the use of contingent workers ultimately creates a negative social impact.
Contingent employees experience uncertainty about their work future, which can affect work performance. An additional human resource for hire would be interns, which would provide a positive social impact for both the individual and the company.
More sustainable ways to provide human resource flexibility can be accomplished through flexible work scheduling such as flexible work hours, compressed workweeks, or telecommuting.
Compressed workweeks change the number of workdays per week by increasing the length of the workday, which, in turn, reduces the number of days required in a typical workweek. Compressed workweeks have the potential to positively impact the work-life balance and reduce stress for employees by providing extra time for families and activities.
When implemented effectively, compressed workweeks have the potential to lower employee absenteeism and turnover rates for organizations. To date, several city, county, and state governments as well as numerous companies have implemented 4-day workweeks for employees with the anticipation of decreased energy and transportation costs and increased employee satisfaction and retention.
Flexible work scheduling can be accomplished through flexible work hours (flextime) where employees can choose to organize work routines that fit with their personal activities and lifestyles as opposed to the traditional workday hours.
Telecommuting provides flexibility in both the hours and the location of work. Employees spend at least one day a month or more working from home while maintaining their connection to the office by phone, fax, and computer. Many employees, particularly highly extroverted individuals, may be more productive when they remove themselves from multiple distractions. Related to telecommuting is a practice called “office hoteling” or “hot desking.”
These practices reduce the amount of physical space, which lowers overhead cost and prevents resource hoarding or the underutilization of resources. From an environmental perspective, these methods result in reduced traffic and pollution as well as reduced energy consumption and costs for the company.
Hot desking involves providing a desk that is shared between several people at different scheduled times.
Office hoteling is the creation of a software reservation program that reserves office space to employees on an as-needed basis rather than in the manner of the traditional, permanent office space setup.
Labor relations refer to the interaction between the company and the employee, particularly related to the employee’s right to organize. A sustainable company will take a broader view of labor relations and interpret the term to include the protection of labor and human rights with regard to the impacts of business.
Operating within the law has benefits beyond simple legal compliance. A sustainable organization does so because it believes it is the right thing to do for the welfare of the organization and its employees. The human resources department has a large responsibility to keep records, maintain policies, and monitor actions to ensure that employee human rights are protected. Multinational companies operating in emerging economies are especially vulnerable to pressures to exploit the laws, or lack thereof, in other countries. Sustainable organizations practice good citizenship and high ethical standards because it is the right thing to do.
The International Labour Organization has put forth the International Labour Rights Standards by which member states are expected to abide.
In addition, there are numerous nonprofit organizations tracking and reporting on working conditions and human rights issues around the world, including Global Exchange, Human Rights Watch, and the International Labor Rights Forum.
A sustainable organization promotes diversity and nondiscrimination. Employee diversity can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization by stimulating greater creativity and improving problem solving. In an organization that values a broader, fuller array of experiences, cultural viewpoints, and values, there is greater potential for more creativity in ideas and problem solving.
Practices that promote increased diversity are top management commitment to valuing diversity, diversity training programs, support groups, accommodation of family needs, senior mentoring and apprentice programs, and diversity audits. Support groups can be established by an employer to provide a supportive climate for employees around basic interests or common ground.
For example, American Express provides employee-sponsored networks for various groups such as the Jewish Employee Network.
The company 3M also provides a Women’s Leadership Network, Executive Mentoring Program, and the Disability Advisory Group.
Companies, such as Marriott and Honeywell, encourage senior mentoring programs in which senior managers select minority employees to help with career decisions and progress.
Health and Safety
A sustainable organization ensures occupational health and safety. Health and safety issues can be viewed in terms of both social and economic impacts. Employees who are protected from hazardous conditions will have a higher quality of life. Additionally, the cost to employers of workers compensation insurance is directly linked to the number of accidents. Employers pay increased premiums when safety records reflect negative results.
Organizations will spend less in the long run by implementing programs to ensure good practices. Even the announcement of a penalty can have a significant negative effect on the stock price of a company. Concern for the health and safety of employees should begin with top management, and subsequent levels of management should be tasked with developing awareness and implementing training while being rewarded for health and safety initiatives.
The sustainable organization protects employees from harassment and oppressive work environments. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when sexual activity is requested in return for job benefits. Hostile work environments occur when an employee perceives the behavior of another as offensive and undesirable. Policies for handling harassment charges should be developed, and managers and employees should undergo training.
The sustainable organization maintains good citizenship behaviors and consistent standards of ethics in international environments. Different cultures may have very different views and laws of what is right and wrong. Companies need to avoid exploitation of laws found in other countries, such as child labor laws, which are common in many developing nations.
In the short run, companies may experience competitive disadvantages compared to local firms that are able to utilize child labor in order to lower costs or that are able to utilize excessive overtime (often uncompensated) to increase productivity. However, in the long run, maintaining ethical practices creates goodwill opportunities both domestically and abroad with investors, suppliers, and customers.
Pay, Benefits, and Labor Relations
 “Life at American Express.” , American Express. https://careers.americanexpress.com/Life
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