There’s no doubt that the nature of work has been evolving over the past few decades, but it has been quickly catapulted into a new era by the Covid-19 pandemic. With many corporate office jobs considering full or part-time virtual futures, it goes to show that change is possible, especially when deemed necessary.
Companies have also shown they are willing to respond to society’s concerns. Over this summer, brands’ social media accounts flooded with support for Black Lives Matter and their employees of color (although whether their efforts were purely optical or have true intentions is a valid concern).
Through political turmoil, a global pandemic and ongoing climate change, we’ve seen that many organizations are actually listening to their employees and customers. We’ve seen them make unprecedented changes, commit billions of dollars to carbon offsets, reimagine the status quo by creating circularity in their products and leverage technology to bring people together. While the circumstances surrounding these responses are dire, at least we know that some change is possible.
I can’t help but question how else we could create a better world by changing workplace practices.
Ask yourself, have you been in the front seat or back seat of this change? Where do you want to be? If I know anything, it’s that “business as usual will not save the planet,” nor its people. So, no matter what type of job you have now or dream of having in the future, there is a way to make a positive difference right where you stand.
It took me a while to realize that…sitting in a corporate office at one of the world’s largest online retailers, being asked to meet unit sales goals and drive down costs, no matter the consequence to small vendors or their factory employees down the supply chain. It felt like I had no chance of doing well in my position while staying true to my values of reducing consumer waste and protecting vulnerable workers.
But the picture I had in my head was black and white; it didn’t account for the fact that I was actually sitting in the perfect position to positively influence consumer behavior. So, I gathered a small team of peers to build an eco-friendly product hub on our website. We highlighted energy-saving appliance choices for our online shoppers, driving positive spending for the company and the planet.
Even with a large scale of shoppers, I admit that this change was minimal and by no means resolved our nation’s trend of overconsumption. However, it ignited the possibility for new initiatives that aligned with our manager’s goals while achieving a little something positive. Simply opening the eyes of coworkers is a win in my book. Mostly, I learned that you don’t need to work in an impact role or mission-driven organization to make a difference.
Not everyone will find themselves in a position like mine, but there is always a way to make a small difference in your workday, whether it’s for the planet, for exploited communities or for deserving, marginalized coworkers. If you’re able to create a structural change in company hiring and healthcare policies or simply encourage others to recycle at work (or ask your company to start providing recycling options!), every little bit counts.
The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals are focused on changing private and public practices to slow down and reverse climate change. While the most significant change will be made at a government and corporate level, they encourage every individual to take part in their daily lives. They even provide a variety of ways to do just that in your workplace.
Here are just a few:
- Voice your support for equal pay for equal work. Women earn 10 to 30 percent less than men for the same work. Pay inequality persists everywhere.
- Advocate for equal healthcare and parental leave for all employees.
- Bike, walk or take public transport to work, if possible. Save the car trips for when you’ve got a big group.
- Raise your voice against any type of discrimination in your office. Everyone is equal regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, social background and physical abilities.
- Examine and change everyday decisions. Can you recycle at your workplace? Is your company buying from merchants engaging in harmful ecological practices?
I think the past year has pushed our society to uncover and begin healing some of our worst habits and biggest failures to vulnerable populations. However, we cannot let our concerns be temporary. We must continue to dig into these uncomfortable discussions and unearth other problems before they hit newspaper headlines. Reaction is action that has come too late.
So, let’s be proactive and make changes now. Before problems become crises, before protests are necessary, before it’s too late.
You may already work as a changemaker, non-profit leader, teacher, doctor, public representative, social entrepreneur, or innovative developer. Amazing! What else can you do? Is your team truly diverse? Is your office or classroom eco-friendly? Do you consider how social inequalities may be embedded in your code, design or language?
Maybe you work in a more traditional role like finance, sales, hospitality, transportation, graphic design or are doing freelance work. There are a million different jobs and a million different ways to make an impact through the simple things we’re already doing. Does your firm offer pro-bono services from time to time? How impactful are your company’s CSR programming and philanthropy efforts— how could it create more lasting change? Is your design or photography portfolio respectfully representative of minorities?
Regularly asking these types of questions — to yourself and your organization’s leadership — may seem like another dot on the to-do list, an aspirational goal that will probably never hit “high priority.” But this misses out on an incredible opportunity to build community at work and find a deeper meaning and purpose in your tasks — all of which actually leads to greater productivity and efficiency! A bit of investment now can pay off in meeting company goals, finding joy in your 9–5 and protecting our planet.
We’re often told to “think outside the box” at work for innovative ways of solving problems or exceeding last year’s numbers. However, when it comes to making an impact — I challenge you to think within the box. Think about what you’re already doing and what has become so second-nature that it may be overlooked for ways to improve. Often, this is exactly the place, process or practice that needs the most attention and can be adapted to create a win-win for profits, people and the planet.