The end of some pandemic-related disruptions may be in sight, but have yet to arrive. In other cases, there will be no end. Organizations need to invest in their workforces and keep their sights on ESG, according to a recent NAVEX report. Carrie Penman, CRCO at NAVEX Global, discusses.
In a changed business and social landscape, it’s important to pay attention to the trends impacting our organizations the most. Here, I examine three as outlined in NAVEX Global’s Top 10 Risk & Compliance Trends for 2021. Training, return to work and ESG are likely to dominate the rest of the calendar year and inform how companies move into the future.
In January of 2020, we said that we need to learn how to train humans, not employees. That was perhaps our most profound prediction from last year. Employee training remains a top priority for 2021.
It turned out that in 2020, we put our “humanness” on full and vulnerable display. Personal spaces were turned into home offices. Essential workers risked their personal safety to do their jobs. Employees truly brought their “whole selves” to work and, through this challenging time, reconsidered their personal and professional priorities. Now, employers need to ask themselves if their collective communications and decisions reflect and acknowledge this reality.
Every day, we have been with our colleagues in their kitchens, bedrooms and basements. These new work locations have made compliance training even more complex, but never more important. Compliance professionals are likely to receive more scrutiny and pushback from employees on important yet divisive issues, like getting a COVID-19 vaccine or the content of diversity training. For now, in-person training may not be possible, but programs can be adapted. To be better prepared, organizations should:
- Map out their needs and plan for the rest of 2021 and beyond.
- Align with leadership on controversial topics before launching key messages.
- Expand the definition of training to education and awareness.
- Ensure executives understand the importance of modeling and supporting company values.
- Expect, and be prepared to handle, objections to content and positions taken (and not taken) by the organization.
Return to Work
After a year of remote work for many, and with vaccinations ramping up across the country, it’s not surprising that employers are eager to return to their offices while some employees are less certain. However, as business leaders navigate returning to in-person work, there is much to consider on both the logistical and ethical fronts. Vaccine requirements, work-from-home flexibility, personal protective equipment and office layouts are only a few of the factors employers must take into account when deciding to return to the office.
When determining if – and when – to bring employees back into the office, business leaders should consider the following:
Don’t underestimate the increased employee expectations of flexible work schedules and full remote work. Business leaders should ask themselves if they truly need to bring employees back to the office. Evaluating employee productivity while at home and surveying employees about their return-to-work preferences will help make the decision easier and help assess the risk of losing talent if a strict return-to-work policy is implemented.
Revamping the physical space will be controversial. Employers will likely have to make some changes to physical office spaces to ensure the return-to-work environment is safe and functional, even with widespread vaccinations. Expect employee concerns about issues – such as social distancing, mask requirements, hoteling instead of maintaining assigned desks and vaccines – to generate hotline reporting. This will put compliance officers in the middle of explaining their organization’s decisions.
Identify and address employees’ mental health needs. The pandemic forced much of the workforce into isolation with a lack of human interaction or an overload of family issues. It can be hard to tell beyond what is visible in a video or phone call, but employees may be struggling. Compliance officers are on the front lines here, as behavior concerns are often the subject of reporting. Ensure that your organization is fostering a supportive environment to address these mental health concerns. Make sure you make mental health services available to all.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)
We’ve recently experienced heightened interest in ESG, which has become a key focus area for business executives, boards and investors alike. ESG is taking corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the next level, and organizations would be wise to establish a well-structured, scalable ESG program that aligns with market expectations. Over the next decade, an increase in climate-related disasters will encourage wider adoption of ESG – impacting supply chains, investments, operational and strategic decision-making and, of course, the environment itself.
However, the environment and climate risks aren’t the only focus of ESG. Metrics around diversity and inclusion, gender pay structures, board composition and factory conditions are other examples of top-of-mind ESG metrics. It takes more than one group to manage ESG efforts, and organizations that align ESG goals with business goals will have more success.
Companies will need to move beyond their traditional CSR reporting to include ESG issues. Boards, employees, investors and customers are growing more demanding of ESG metrics and are looking for more frequent and transparent reporting. To start, organizations should:
- Assess the current state of the business, identify risks and map metrics to corporate goals.
- Engage with key internal stakeholders and establish priorities around strategy, goals and metrics.
- Collect and consolidate information for reporting.
Companies and compliance officers currently have the opportunity to focus on creating a more safe, transparent and diverse workplace for their employees and their communities. Perhaps we will come to realize we can no longer narrowly define or address risk and compliance and that integration, context and cooperation may just be the best tools for organizations to utilize.