Ecological transition and quality of life at work: what correlation?

In order to meet environmental challenges, the ecological transition must no longer be thought of as an individual responsibility, but worked on at different levels. Many organizations are seeking to change their practices or are undertaking strategies to transform towards more sustainable models. These projects have a real impact both on territories, through the opportunity to create or retrain jobs that they generate, and on collective organizations, professions and employee skills. Environmental issues and working conditions within organizations are therefore completely inseparable today.

Two complementary questions then arise:

*How are working conditions impacted by climate change or ecological transition projects?

*How can thinking about quality of life at work or internal reorganizations integrate climate and environmental issues?

Various institutions and organizations have addressed this question. In France, for example, ANACT (Association Nationale d’Amélioration des Conditions de Travail) is proposing a fund to support structures in implementing joint actions in terms of ecological transition and quality and well-being at work. 

Indeed, to initiate the necessary changes, it is important for organizations to understand the various points of intersection where quality of life at work and climate issues collide. Here are some of them:

Impact of climate change on the health of employees and organizations

First of all, it is important to consider the extent to which employees and the activities of organizations are sensitive to the effects of climate change, depending on the activities of the structure, the positions concerned, and the territory in which they are located. 

The most obvious of these manifestations, the increase in temperature, has a direct impact on workers’ health. According to the Eurofound agency, 23% of workers (in Europe) are exposed to high temperatures for at least a quarter of their working time; this figure rises to 36% in the agricultural and industrial sectors and 38% in construction. Only a few countries have legislation to protect workers during heat waves (Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, etc.). For more consistency and fairness, the unions are therefore demanding Europe-wide regulations.

High temperatures are not the only impacts to be feared from climate change. Natural disasters, disrupted travel (gasoline shortages, traffic lane deformations, etc.), and difficulties in supplying raw materials or energy can also have an impact, requiring both employers’ attention to the well-being of workers and the ability for teams to adapt quickly.

In order to limit the impact on working conditions, it seems essential to anticipate the effects of global warming as early as possible, for example by adapting working hours to heat waves, training employees whose jobs are destined to disappear, or implementing internal procedures in the event of “degraded” operations

Impact of changes in practices on employee well-being

Beyond the consequences of climate change, the orientations taken by the structures to limit their impact are not without consequence on working conditions. While the majority of changes have a beneficial effect (renewed sense of purpose in work, effect on health, reduction of eco-anxiety, etc.), others can be more ambivalent. 

For example, the implementation of a soft mobility charter for business trips (bicycle, train or bus preferred to plane or car) must be thought through by identifying the impacts on work time management and fatigue (sometimes longer and more complex trips). This requires a rethink of the activities, the organization of working hours and the conditions for remote work… The financial cost of these changes should not be overlooked, and the model thus devised must allow for the financial absorption of any additional costs generated. 

Facilitating adaptation also requires employees to develop their skills, both in terms of environmental issues and new working methods. Changes in procedures, changes in equipment, new constraints or standards to be met are all variables that need to be integrated, sometimes rapidly.

Changes in organization or even models may require a strengthening of the cooperative and partnership dimensions as well as the pooling of resources, services and know-how. These changes are necessarily accompanied by an evolution of posture and a better knowledge of the network and the know-how of each person.

All this requires time, support and training, ideally directly in the field.

For example, many transport companies have set up training courses for drivers in eco-driving, both on the organization of rounds (choice of fluid traffic times, organization of distributions limiting the number of kilometers driven, etc.) and on driving itself. The investment is costly, but the results are generally quickly visible, both in environmental and economic terms and in terms of the satisfaction of employees who have become more independent.

Ecological transition and consultation

All these internal changes, which require a rethink of the organization and the business lines, can sometimes be very complicated to implement. The obstacles to change are a reality that cannot be denied, and the capacity to adapt varies greatly from one individual to another, depending on seniority, the relationship with digital tools, the positions concerned and, above all, individual and collective needs.

If we take the example of teleworking, its deployment in recent years can be experienced as an improvement of working conditions (reduction of transportation, ability to concentrate, easier organization of work/life) as well as a deterioration of them (loss of social links, feeling of loneliness, difficulties with digital tools).

Finding the right balance is therefore particularly delicate: is it better to impose common conditions on everyone or to let the balance occur naturally? Should employee monitoring and evaluation practices be modified? How to ensure fairness within the same team? These are all questions that arise in this type of reorganisation and require the expression of each individual.

Thus, it seems obvious that in order to facilitate change as much as possible, it must be thought out as early as possible and above all in a concerted manner. But in what way? Within which bodies? With whom?

In order for these ecological issues to be a collective responsibility and not just an individual one, it is essential that a diversity of stakeholders be brought to the table.

Employees and employers, first and foremost, can be brought together within the framework of existing employee representation bodies, for example? In France, the 2021 climate and resilience law, part of the Green Pact for Europe, provides for CSEs [Social and Economics Comittee] to be informed and consulted on issues relating to the company’s environmental strategies and practices. 

But the place of governance, users, partners, and funders in the associations is also essential, because broadening the spaces for discussion can anticipate the appearance of new needs and the strengthening of cooperation. Organizations are then free to invest in existing spaces (general assembly, etc.) or to create new ones (dynamics for improving internal practices). 

Conclusion: As we can all guess, changing work is now a condition for the success of the ecological transition. But this transition cannot be perceived as a technical transformation of processes aiming to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but as a dynamic combining cultural, social and organizational changes, etc. Sharing and cooperation are key issues, and tomorrow’s managers will not have the same role or the same responsibilities as today’s.

The diversity of the fields concerned within the organization itself shows that these changes in practices cannot be dissociated from a more global reflection on the organization, the strategy and the economic model of a structure. Indeed, work, as it was conceived over the last few decades, with a priority search for profitability and productivity, is no longer viable today. The global transformation of organizations in their ways of doing, investing, producing, consuming, managing and organizing work is essential today, but must be anticipated, prepared and supported.

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