Q&A: Sustainable HR Practices and Workplace Culture with Vinita

In this Q&A, Vinita shares her insights on sustainable HR practices and the future of sustainability in workplace culture.

Q: Vinita, can you tell us about your background in HR and your journey so far?

I started my journey with a strong background in mathematics and a desire to pursue engineering, but I ended up in the field of HR. After my bachelor's in physics, I joined a company that connected healthcare professionals with the UK's National Health Services. My role involved a mix of HR, sales, and mathematics as we sourced and placed healthcare workers, ensuring they met all compliance requirements. This agile process played a crucial role in healthcare staffing.

Q: How did your background in physics and mathematics contribute to your skill set for people management in HR?

My background in physics and mathematics didn't directly apply to my HR role, but I developed skills in negotiation, communication, people management, and team leadership, which were vital in my job. The role involved handling targets, tracking records, and maintaining strong client relationships, making it a mix of various skills.

Q: What are your thoughts on sustainability in HR, and why is it important to discuss it?

I find sustainability in HR essential because it goes beyond just environmental concerns. In my role, it's about improving employees' work-life balance, boosting their confidence, and increasing productivity. This involves promoting eco-friendly options, implementing recycling programs, and engaging in corporate social responsibility initiatives to create an ecosystem where employees can voice their opinions and participate.

Q: How can sustainable HR practices be introduced in a fully remote workforce where physical implementation is challenging?

In a remote workforce, sustainability can be promoted through digital initiatives like reducing paper usage, embracing digital documentation, offering virtual training programs and webinars to minimize travel, and discussing eco-friendly practices in virtual team meetings. By fostering a culture of sustainability through online interactions, companies can promote eco-conscious practices in a remote work environment.

Q: Do you think that sustainability doesn't have to be a separate movement or agenda but can instead be integrated into various HR initiatives and functions?

So, in my opinion, we Indians tend to be a bit hesitant to adopt new practices unless we see personal rewards, especially in terms of financial benefits. It's important to run awareness campaigns when introducing new practices in the workplace to emphasize how they can add personal value to each individual, not just to the organization as a whole. This can encourage adoption and acceptance.

Q: How can you effectively convince employees to embrace sustainable choices in the workplace, even if it requires a short-term adjustment in their habits and potentially higher initial costs?

To promote eco-friendly choices in the office, you can initially provide free samples of eco-friendly products, like reusable bottles or metal glasses. Set clear deadlines for phasing out non-eco options, such as plastic bottles or disposable cups. Over time, encourage employees to transition to these eco-friendly alternatives as they become more accustomed to using them. This gradual approach can help employees embrace sustainable practices in the long term.

Q: How can sustainable practices be introduced on a smaller scale within an organization, such as running a pilot program with a specific team, and then effectively expand these changes throughout the entire organization?

Certainly. To implement small changes in the office environment, the key is to engage employees by introducing fun activities. These activities can take the form of contests, challenges, or events that encourage employees to participate actively. For instance, you could organize a competition where employees are tasked with customizing their own mugs or utensils, which align with eco-friendly practices.

The element of competition and the promise of rewards or surprises for the winners can make these changes more appealing to employees. This approach not only motivates employees to adopt new practices but also fosters a sense of involvement and fun in the workplace. It's an effective way to drive change while keeping the atmosphere positive and engaging.

Q: Why is the focus on sustainability and eco-friendly practices in the workplace more significant now, after decades of office culture, and why was it not as emphasized in the past 50–70 years?

The importance of environmental sustainability has grown due to factors like a rising population, dwindling resources, and a shift towards a more luxurious lifestyle, often driven by social media influence. This has created a pressing need to conserve resources and secure a sustainable future for upcoming generations.

Q: Do you see sustainability becoming a big part of HR and workplace culture in the next 5 to 7 years? What cultural impact will it have on future offices?

Absolutely, sustainability will play a significant role in the next 5 years. When we talk about sustainability, it extends to creating a balanced and healthy work environment, and HR is the key to achieving this balance. HR professionals are responsible for fostering an enabling work atmosphere and promoting gender diversity, which is crucial for a thriving economy. So, yes, sustainability is poised to become an integral part of HR and workplace culture in the coming years.

Do you work in HR?

Email abhash.kumar@springworks.in and let’s talk :)

Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organisation.