Man and woman sitting at work on laptops

Could a green workplace boost engagement?

Improving employee productivity and wellbeing through a green workplace culture

4 minute read
Man and woman sitting at work on laptops

Workplace success is determined by a business’s productivity, with output and efficiency depending on employees, making their health and welfare a contributing factor for success.

With staff wellbeing crucial to achieving positive outcomes, green human resources management (HRM) provides a pathway to improving employee performance and motivation in the workplace.

Green human resources management leads to non-green workplace benefits

According to research by the University of South Australia, green HRM fosters sustainable behaviours, leading to non-green workplace benefits such as job satisfaction, stronger employee engagement and increased productivity.

University of South Australia Management Lecturer Subha Parida, who has been studying the effects of HRM, said involving green human resources managers or managers who implemented sustainability actually improved the overall behaviours of staff.

“On one side, it is improving sustainable environmental performance, and on the other, people will be happy, satisfied and feel they are contributing to the environment,” Dr Parida said.

What is a green workplace?

Dr Parida said green buildings were a classic example of green or eco-friendly workplaces because they had a Green Star certification from the Green Building Council of Australia.

“These buildings are designed in a way where they have lots of natural light or improve air quality, provide employees with access to greenspaces and have good thermal comfort,” she said.

“People feel happy and there’s a lot of health benefits as productivity increases.”

However, eco-friendly workplaces go beyond their physical qualities, with the workplace culture itself playing a significant part.

“I had some samples in my research, which were not certified green buildings but were eco-friendly workplaces – even though they were not technically designed to be sustainable, the culture in those offices were very much driven by one emphasising sustainability,” Dr Parida said.

“When employees perceive the organisation to be environmentally responsible, they feel a sense of pride, purpose and loyalty.”

Importance of improving engagement through green workplaces post COVID-19

Many workers have not been prepared to fully return to their workplace following the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 2022 survey by Robert Half Talent Solutions revealing 50 per cent of Australian employers believe return-to-office policies will not have a positive effect on staff retention, while 51 per cent believe it will negatively impact candidate attraction.

Dr Parida said the issue was not solely relegated to Australia, with the sentiment being shared around the world.

“With work-from-home or flexible workplaces, people are getting disconnected with physical workplace,” she said.

“It’s also not just the physical workplaces – remote work relies on digital communication tools and people get a lot of benefit from not travelling and working at home.

“There is now a big emphasis on making your workplace mentally and physically fit for employees so that it is good for people to come back to a physical workplace environment.”

Flexibility and collaboration with employees is necessary

Curtin University School of Management Associate Professor Jane Coffey said it was the degree to which employers genuinely engaged with employees on creating an eco-friendly workplace, rather than the actual end result, which would improve output and wellness in the office post COVID-19.

“If the company’s purpose for going green is purely a marketing and sales strategy, and there has been no connection, concern or consultation with employees, there won’t be any improvement in engagement and productivity,” she said.

“Employees are more likely to feel motivated when the company shows authentic care, empathy and concern for their wellbeing."

“If the company actually demonstrates commitment to a green work environment, and it is driven by a desire to provide a safe and healthy office for their employees, then there will be a correlation.

“A green culture is very much focused around having wellness policies with an emphasis on mental health and giving staff access to job flexibility, individualised remuneration benefits, development opportunities and salary packaging.”

In order to facilitate an effective green working environment, Dr Coffey said it was essential for leadership to involve employees in the process of making new policies and actions.

“Business leaders need to listen to employees and have to be curious and prepared to unlearn what may be a quite archaic and conservative leadership style,” she said.

“Be authentic about collaborating with staff – don’t enforce policies and procedures on top of them. Show this is about their health, wellbeing and redesigning work that’s sustainable.

“Utilise their knowledge, get them to think about how their particular jobs can be refashioned – because part of the green work environment is to reduce emissions – and ask them for ideas on how to make the workplace eco-friendly, sustainable and socially responsible.”

Dr Coffey said reaching out to employees with more sustainable mindsets would pay dividends in a positive workplace culture shift.

“Younger employees tend to be very knowledgeable when it comes to green environment, sustainability and corporate social responsibility,” she said.

“Let them be the mentors in this for the rest of the workplace.

“It’s all about learning from your employees.”