Divides and Dividends: Macro, Micro and "Me" Priorities

Climate change, pollution and the global pandemic are cited as the most important sustainability issues. However, answers vary when it comes to company and workplace issues.

No other time in recent memory has seen such a convergence of issues affecting people, planet and profit. Health and economic disparities are amplified. Social and racial injustices are in sharp focus, and polarizing political divisions continue to emerge and surge.

For business leaders, this presents a dizzying landscape. With so many issues to contend with, where should attention be focused? There is no one correct answer. However, it is important that leaders prioritize the issues that matter most to their organization—including those that they have a chance of positively influencing—as well as those that their employees want to see action on. Our research shows that there is work to be done here. When asked to consider and prioritize a range of 16 environmental and social issues, C-suite executives, next-generation leaders and employees largely agree on the macro issues affecting the future of our society: climate change, pollution, and global pandemics. However, opinions diverge when it comes to the most important issues affecting individual companies and workplaces. C-suite leaders remain focused on the big, macro picture. Meanwhile, employees zero in on challenges closer to home (what we refer to as “micro” priorities), such as economic inequalities and the shortage of workers with in-demand skills.

Leading by example

PepsiCo Applies Sustainability Filter to Evaluate Expenditures PepsiCo incorporates environmental sustainability criteria into its Capital Expenditure Filter, which is applied to all requests over $5 million. It reviews each request against business financial metrics and its ability to advance the business strategy, as well as for its impact (positive or negative) on environmental performance and its contribution to efforts to achieve the company’s climate goal.
Source: PepsiCo, Inc., Climate Change 2019

When asked about the specific issues that senior leaders should solve, all respondents prioritized health and wellbeing concerns. That is not surprising in a pandemic environment. Employees, however, are also focused on other immediate issues that impact their day-to-day lives at work such as fair remuneration, equal opportunities for advancement and greater flexibility. It’s about my health, my pay, and my work-life-home flexibility. These are not small things to employees. Interestingly, employees are much less likely than C-suite leaders to prioritize Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) as an issue to solve. D&I does, however, overlap with other specific issues they have emphasized, such as equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities for advancement. The key implication here for leaders is that the more D&I initiatives connect into practical issues, like pay and advancement, the better.

Leaders who recognize these nuances and make an effort to truly understand employee concerns in a pandemic and post-pandemic environment will be better positioned to attract and retain talent. By effectively managing and addressing macro-level issues along with employees’ more present and immediate concerns about economic and job security, flexibility, and greater equity, leaders have a significant opportunity to increase trust, engagement, loyalty and productivity—and reap financial and non-financial dividends.

Regional Insights: Differences in priority sustainability issues

Employees around the world are aligned on the top three issues affecting their respective societies, almost unanimously citing climate change, pollution and global pandemics. C-suite respondents are less in sync. For example, climate change is not a top three issue for leaders in the US and Canada, nor is pollution. These leaders are much more focused on nearer term priorities, including high-level corruption, abuses of power and gender inequity.


Action Items

  • Ensure your board and executive team have a shared understanding of the societal, environmental and economic megatrends that will impact your business strategy. 
  • Understand the top social, environmental and economic issues your employees care about—at both a societal and organizational level. Elevating the HR function and investing in culture analytics will be a critical way to engage employees on these topics. 
  • Focus on “people first” company messaging. Connect the dots between macro and micro issues to explain how organizational practices and priorities support employee outcomes. 

About the Study

The business case for sustainability is undeniable. Leaders who bridge the divides that threaten our global societies will yield significant triple-line dividends.

In a major global survey of C-suite executives, next-gen leaders, and employees, we reveal how leaders can grasp this opportunity:

  • What are the environmental, social, and economic divides that leaders should solve?
  • How ready are leaders to advance the sustainability agenda?
  • What actions should leaders take to deliver lasting value for people, planet, and profit.

The study was conducted with 9,500 employees and next-generation leaders in 11 growth and mature markets from April 16 to May 12, 2021.


Divides and Dividends

Access an unprecedented sustainable leadership study with 9,500 respondents in 11 countries and learn what actions leaders should take to deliver lasting value for people, planet and profit.