Sustainability & Business

How to avoid "people washing": Lessons in values driven, sustainable HR

Going for B Corp certification is not just a box ticking exercise - it's about introducing values that you intend to live by. Get the lowdown from Jo Faiers, Founder and Director of HR Rockstars, on the important role that HR plays in developing a values-driven HR strategy.

Getting B Corp certified is about more than just getting a badge for your website - it’s a set of values that can shape the sort of business you run, the culture you set, and the sustainability goals you achieve. No one knows this better than Jo Faiers, Founder of HR Consultancy, HR Rockstars - the first HR consultancy to achieve B Corp status in the UK. Their outsourced HR Consultancy works with clients to help them live by their values, go for B Corp certification, and do more than pay lip service to employee handbooks and policies. With employees becoming ever more demanding, and talent wars heating up, discover the key things you can do to make sure you avoid “people washing” in your company, and improve your chances of getting B Corp certified. 

Don't introduce policies if you're not planning to live by them

You can have all the policies and handbooks in the world, but if they’re not put into practice, there’s very little point in having them in the first place.  “Companies going through the B Corp certification process often ask us to create an employee handbook, and nowadays you can just use Chat GPT. But what Chat GPT can’t help you do is live the values of that policy. That’s what businesses come to us for - to help create the policies, then put them into action with training and workshops. A good example is if you have a menopause policy, but you don’t have any older women in your workforce or don’t plan to hire any older women, there’s no point in having a policy in place. So we really test our clients to see if there's intent there, and the good news is that nine of ten times it is.”

Involve HR in B Corp and sustainability conversations

HR or People and Culture plays a much larger role than people think, especially when it comes to sustainability, and being so heavily involved in employee feedback loops means they actually know what employees want from the company.  “We are often involved in setting goals for senior leaders around sustainability goals, so that B Corp can truly penetrate the entire organisation from the top down, but also the bottom up with frameworks for things like employee volunteering schemes.”


Nowadays you can just ask Chat GPT to create employee policies, but what Chat GPT can't do is help you live the values of those policies" 



Keep getting employee feedback

A good way of taking the temperature of your workplace is by conducting regular employee surveys. For the sake of continuity, you should ask the same questions (with some new ones added in) each time so you can see how things are changing. You should be aiming to increase employee engagement levels year on year, but also communicating that you’ve heard them, and explaining what you’re doing to change. “We’ve found employee surveys to be very revealing, especially with increased levels of mental health issues coupled with stress and anxiety. A simple survey question about working from home, for example, showed that people weren’t really communicating properly which was leading to a lot of assumptions and negativity. So introducing etiquette for when to use email and when to use Slack was a positive step we could take to make people feel more reassured when working from home”.  

Keep it collaborative!

It’s never been a more important time for cross-department collaboration, because it increases visibility and efficiency across the business - for example the close working relationship between HR and Sustainability can massively improve employee engagement, and infuse sustainable leadership with practical strategies and tactics. A certification like B Corp also needs the full attention of a team that’s responsible for the outcome, as opposed to being a side project for a committed group of volunteers. “Regardless of your seniority level, everyone has a role to play in the B Corp process. If it isn’t bled through every part of your organization, it won’t work. Improving collaboration is how we’ll better the world, our workforce, and ensure that our governance structures are fit for purpose.”


Regardless of your seniority level, everyone has a role to play in the B Corp process. If it isn’t bled through every part of your organization, it won’t work



Make sure sustainability comes from the top

If senior leaders aren’t walking the talk, it can be detrimental to the whole company, so their role is huge in driving sustainable impact. What employees are looking for nowadays is real intention - it’s not just a job anymore, so old-school leadership styles are not going to cut it.  “Employees want to see that senior leaders are prepared to make salary sacrifices, that they’re comfortable being vulnerable or talking about their own mental health. They also want to see leaders that will make decisions based not only on commercial values, but that incorporate their employees too. Leading by example in every aspect, whether its sustainability or health and wellbeing, is a make or break”.  

Be prepared to admit when you've got it wrong

It’s not easy for senior leaders to recognise or accept that they have a less than perfect work environment or that they’re lacking in certain areas, but the first step of “recovery” is actually acknowledging that you have a problem in the first place! “We have to have a lot of challenging conversations every day with senior management, and in a lot of cases, point out their flaws. And change doesn’t happen overnight - it can take a minimum of 12 months to see any sort of progress, but the first step is to start having honest conversations, show vulnerability and be humble enough to put your hands up and say 'we got it wrong'”.


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