As a student at Grinnell College, I enrolled in a fascinating course taught by Professor Doug Caulkins called MANAGING FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. For this class, Grinnell alumna Erin Owen ’94 was invited to campus to speak to us about the topic of sustainability from her point of view.
Among all the alumni who spoke to our class, Erin had the most unique presentation. Usually sustainability is thought of in the context of organizations or institutions, and is focused on keeping the organization working. Erin took a very interesting, but also extremely important approach to sustainability. She raised the question of self-sustainability and are we as individuals behaving in a way that is sustainable to ourselves as humans?
I found this intriguing because in the United States people work like dogs and are concerned with working more than they are with their personal health. This is a huge problem because without healthy and high functioning humans there cannot be high functioning societies or sustainable organizations.
I think this is something that needs to be addressed and it could be a great idea for organizations to adopt and make part of their culture. An organization that emphasizes personal health and personal sustainability will likely have loyal employees and a positive work environment which ultimately leads to sustainability of the organization as a whole.
One of the main problems that Erin stressed was the pace at which people are working. People are expecting more from themselves and their organizations, which is driving the pace of work higher. This is in turn causing people to be constantly working, so that even when they stop working their brain is still working!
This causes what Erin referred to as presenteeism* where people are present physically, but mentally are working on something else. This interested me because I see it every day. People are connected to their devices and social interactions are starting to take place more through technology than face to face interactions. This is a problem for society and organizations.
These issues should be discussed more often with the topic of sustainability because self-sustainability is really the root of sustainability in any context.
Thank you to guest author Nicholas Brule (Grinnell College Class of 2017). Follow Nick on Twitter @NickBrule.
*”Presenteeism” is a term coined by Paul Hemp, the author of a 2004 article titled “Presenteeism: At Work – But Out of It”, published in the Harvard Business Review. In the article, Helm states that presenteeism “costs U.S. companies over $150 billion a year—much more than absenteeism does.” Learn more about hbr.org.