Research from PLAY, digital product studio and incubator, has found almost a quarter (24%) of Gen Z employees (18 to 24-year-olds) would not work at a business that profits from unsustainable practices.

Among British employees more broadly, two-thirds surveyed (68%) felt it was important for the company they work for to be committed to acting sustainably, and nearly half (44%) want businesses to demonstrate the initiatives or goals that will make the entire business more sustainable (not just one part of the business).

The data also showed sustainable behaviour could help employers with talent attraction and retention, with more than half of employees (54%) saying they would be more likely to work for a company that provides resources and tools for them to become more sustainable.

This was as high as 62% of 25 to 34-year-olds, 67% of employees working for SMEs (with 250 to 500 employees), and 84% of people working in IT and telecommunications industries. Despite this clear demand for support in sustainable habit change, only 38% of employees said that their employer currently provides tools and resources for them to build more sustainable habits.

The findings were revealed as part of a report by PLAY, titled, Corporate climate crisis: why businesses need to support employees in making sustainable behavioural changes. For the report, PLAY surveyed 1,000 UK-based employees, split between 750 general employees and 250 business leaders/Chief Sustainability Officers, about their views on sustainability initiatives in business.

Businesses must improve sustainability practices to boost employee engagement

When asked what factors would make them more likely to take a new job, employees still value a good salary (65%) the most, followed by a good benefits package (50%), and a convenient office location (49%). However, their company having a clear social/ethical purpose was a key factor too (28%). It also ranked higher than factors such as remote or hybrid working being available (26%).

Concerningly, among employees, less than half (43%) feel that their company’s sustainability actions make a difference, while 18% said they don’t, and 35% said they don’t know if their company does anything to act sustainably. This grey area was highest among the youngest employees too, with 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they don’t know what their company is doing to be sustainable.

When it comes to initiatives in place and how companies help their employees act sustainably, the most common actions companies take are voluntary initiatives to encourage sustainability (43%), volunteering days on top of annual leave (37%), and compulsory rules and policies that ensure sustainable practices (such as paperless offices, no single use materials in the office) (36%). However, this suggests most companies are implementing voluntary projects, which could be why many people may not be aware of them or engaging with them, and that companies aren’t offering a joined up and collective employee/ employer sustainability ‘convenant’.

Employers do clearly recognise the need to improve on this, with 82% of business leaders saying they agree that their organisation should support employees to make sustainable decisions and display sustainable behaviours, and 36% thinking staff should be rewarded for acting sustainably.

Marcus Thornley, CEO and founder of PLAY comments: “Amidst The Great Resignation, employers are under pressure to engage and retain their best people through improved pay and benefits, but also other human-aspects of work, such as sustainability practices and acting ethically – and it’s clear there’s an employee demand for this. Businesses need to create clear, transparent sustainability goals and initiatives to be accountable to, but must also be looking at how they can help staff act more sustainably in their own lives and possibly even reward them for that. Implementing behavioural design tools that use game approaches can help employers incentivise habit changes, measure success over time, and help to make a tangible impact.”