New Deloitte Research Reveals 80% of CEOs Feel Pressured by Employees, Customers and Boards to Improve Human Sustainability

Deloitte released a new report in collaboration with independent research firm Workplace Intelligence uncovering growing pressure for companies to prioritize human sustainability: the degree to which an organization creates value for people as human beings, leaving them with greater health and well-being, stronger skills and greater employability, good jobs, opportunities for advancement, progress toward equity, increased belonging, and heightened connection to purpose.

Now in its third year, the survey revealed that the majority of the C-suite, including around 8 out of 10 CEOs, say they’re feeling pressured to make public commitments to improve human sustainability from employees (82%), customers (78%), investors (78%), partners (77%) and board members (77%).

Leaders are largely embracing this pressure: 88% would like their pay to be tied to human sustainability metrics, and 71% believe their company’s leadership should change if they aren’t advancing human sustainability. Around 3 out of 4 executives agree that human sustainability is an enterprise risk that should be measured and monitored (73%) and discussed at the board level (75%).

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The report, “The important role of leaders in advancing human sustainability,” also reveals that doing well by workers and the world can offer long-term benefits for both people and organizations. However, to help companies to move their human sustainability efforts forward and reap these benefits, leaders should increase their understanding of worker realities at their own organization.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Eighty-two percent of executives believe their company is advancing human sustainability, but just 56% of workers agree. In fact, some leaders fail to recognize that for most people surveyed, work is a negative rather than a positive force in their lives. Around 90% of executives believe that working for their company has a positive effect on employee well-being, skills development, career advancement, inclusion and belonging, and their sense of purpose and meaning. However, just 60% (or fewer) of workers agree.

  • Workforce well-being — a key component of human sustainability — continues to need focus, but many executives may not be aligned with what their worker sentiment reveals. Only around 1 out of 3 workers say their physical (34%), mental (32%), financial (35%) and social (31%) well-being improved last year. However, at least 7 out of 10 executives believe these well-being dimensions improved for their people.

  • Around 7 out of 10 workers say if their organization increased its commitment to human sustainability, this would improve their overall experience at work (72%) and increase their engagement and job satisfaction (71%), productivity (70%), desire to stay with their company long-term (70%), and trust in their company’s leadership (69%).

  • Eighty-two percent of executives say companies should be required to publicly report their human sustainability metrics. However, 81% admit their own organization isn’t doing enough when it comes to making public commitments around human issues. Around a third (32%) of these leaders say this is because the goals they could realistically accomplish are trivial and they’re embarrassed to make public commitments around them. 

  • A significant majority of executives (88%) would like their compensation to be tied to human sustainability metrics. Remarkably, nearly half (47%) would like at least 75% of their compensation to be linked to these metrics. What’s more, 61% of the C-suite say they’d accept a pay cut to work for a company that is advancing human sustainability.

“It’s promising that so many of today’s leaders are willing to take ownership of human sustainability,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence. “However, some executives don’t realize that their own employees are dealing with a suboptimal work experience. The disconnects uncovered in our research should be a call to action for leaders as they embark on their mission to create greater value for all stakeholders within the broader human ecosystem.”

“Embracing human sustainability can have benefits for both business and people,” said Paul Silverglate, U.S. Executive Accelerators leader and Deloitte’s US Technology Sector vice chair. “Today’s C-suite has an opportunity to help ensure it is prioritized at the highest levels of their organizations, helping them become more rewarding and productive places to work.”

“There is an incredible momentum building for organizations to make meaningful change,” added Jen Fisher, retired managing director at Deloitte US. “But leaders should move away from a legacy mindset that centers on extracting value from people and instead embrace the concept of human sustainability, which can support the long-term, collective well-being of individuals, organizations and society.”

Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence in February and March 2024 among 3,150 employees, managers and C-level executives across the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. For more insights, access the full report here.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

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