Applying A Sustainability Mindset To Human Capital
August 15, 2023

Ah, the beloved myth of collateral damage – a tale as old as time, perpetuated by boxsets and books alike. It’s the convenient justification for great leaders on great quests to use people as they see fit, no matter the cost. Tough luck for those caught in the crossfire, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles, right? And let’s not forget the cherry on top: the victorious hero offering their condolences for those who “died in glory”, a gesture we’re supposed to interpret as compassion rather than a hollow attempt to save face for the reckless expenditure of life.

But oh, how we love this myth! It’s addictive, deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, and still inspires today’s business world’s “win at all costs” mentality. Because who needs ethics when you can have success? Just ignore the human capital cost; it’s a small price to pay for the sweet taste of victory.

But let’s not criticise winning and success – after all, they’re the bread and butter of our society. Although, perhaps it’s time we question the collateral damage myth and the toll it takes on our fellow humans. Could we apply a sustainability mindset to our human capital in business? Or we could just keep living in this twisted fairytale and hope for a happy ending. Your call.




With climate change excelling faster than predicted, increasing sustainability in terms of our ecosystems and finite resources has been a hot topic recently. We, as a society, have been forced to accept the truth; that there is not an endless supply of resources on our planet and ecological systems and even society as we know it is far more fragile than previously thought. Therefore, we must find other ways to live that are more sustainable.

The same logic we apply to the environment can and should also be applied to our people. In the very same way that our planet does not have an endless supply of oil, for example, humans do not have an endless supply of energy, productivity or time. Sustainability is a key concept within an environmental context and even within an organisational one but rarely discussed regarding humans.


Why now?


Adopting a sustainability people strategy has never been so pertinent with the latest worrying projections about the UK’s productivity and economy shrinkage. The UK workforce is struggling.

Searches for burnout symptoms rose from 1,000 to 12,100 from 2016 to 2021, a 260% increase. Nearly a million UK workers suffer from workplace stress, anxiety or depression, with 55% of the lost working days due to these health cases. Work-related stress is the most common type recorded in the UK, with 4/5 of respondents reporting that in 2020, closely followed by financial stress. The average UK household is £8,800 worse off than those in France or Germany. 2/3s of UK workers have ‘quiet quit’ their jobs according to Lanes Group plc. CRN reports that ¾’s of UK tech workers are unhappy in their jobs. Need I go on….?

The result of all this? The UK is the only major power in the G7 to see its economy shrink, and on a global stage, it’s faring worse than Russia.

Perhaps there is even some correlation between this and the UK’s productivity rating compared to its G7 counterparts. Only Japan and Canada scored lower than the UK, with the US, France, Italy and Germany all having superior output. Looking at France, Germany and Italy as they are the most comparable to the UK, the countries have very different attitudes towards work and work-life balance.

For example, France had a long-standing law that workers could not eat at their desks, only removed due to the Covid-19 procedure. Italy has been ranked the highest country by the OECD for work-life balance scoring 9.4/10, and only 4.6% of Germans work ‘very long hours.’

Comparatively, in the UK, 56% of people don’t even take their lunch break. OECD ranks us 5.6 for work-life balance coming 24th out of 38, and 12.7% of UK employees work ‘very long hours.’

Of course, there is a myriad of factors contributing towards this, but our mindset towards human capital is certainly one. Michael Moran, CEO of 10Eighty’ states:

“The UK always appears near the bottom of the productivity league after many years of little or no capital investment. We have also failed to invest in human capital, the consequences of which are low levels of engagement and employees jumping ship at the first opportunity to increase their remuneration.”

The evidence is clear: we need to adopt a sustainability strategy towards our people. Human beings are arguably the single greatest indicator of success within a business. None of the world’s greatest business success stories would exist without human capital. Yet, people are often viewed in a similar way, as described above, as ‘collateral damage.’ It’s time to reset the way in which we view people. People are a finite resource, let’s treat them like one. As the famous saying goes, ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.’ Call us today to discuss how we could help your organisation or click here to read more about stakeholder vs shareholder theory.

Does this resonate? Follow our LinkedIn for more!