Skip to main content

Nine Key Takeaways for Healthy Employees and Communities, from Thinking Long-term to Having Senior Leaders Who Walk the Talk

On Oct. 28, 2021, the FiscalNote Executive Institute hosted “Making Healthier Employees, Families, and Communities an ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) Priority.” Co-organized with JUST Capital, this candid, interactive virtual discussion featured a diverse group of speakers representing a wide range of expertise in ESG and health equity, including: Piya Baptista, Associate Director, Corporate Citizenship, Malcom Glenn, Director of Public Affairs, Better, Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research, Gartner, Sadiqa Banks-Holsey, Assistant General Counsel and Human Resources Consultant for Engage PEO, and Erin Byrne, Distinguished Executive in Residence, Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation. The closed-door conversation was moderated by Alison Omens, Chief Strategy Officer, JUST Capital.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate push has provided a rare opportunity to examine how companies look at public health and health equity among their employees and within their  communities. The speakers urged organization leaders to take advantage of the last 19 months to integrate ESG – and particularly the health of their employees –  into all aspects of work culture.

The following are nine key takeaways from the program:

  1. Health has an important link to business strategy: a healthy workforce is a productive workforce.
    • It took the COVID-19 pandemic to put health equity into the spotlight.
    • Health is not merely the absence of disease – there are many dimensions to health, such as mental health (emotional well being, work-life balance, burnout) and it’s important to embrace a broader definition.


  2. Health needs to be equitable for everyone,from frontline workers to corporate leaders.
    • Companies should avoid creating a tiered structure that prioritizes health for certain employees and not others (for example, requiring vaccinations for only corporate employees but not frontline workers).
    • ESG agendas should speak to all. Health equality should be a priority for all employees and customers.


  3. Actions – not just words – matter.
    • When companies make grand statements supporting ESG without investments of time and money, it can cause a major crisis in public relations and reputation management. Statements that are not connected to accountability can lower employee engagement and result in  backlash and frustration.Companies that are action-oriented ESG advocates also:
    • Practice transparency and report progress to their staff.
    • Prioritize resources for health that matter to them and spend capital to make changes.
    • Express willingness to take a step back and think long-term.
    • Surround themselves with a board of directors who also care about ESG and are thoughtful about the long term.


  4. Leaders set the tone and ensure ESG is part of a company’s core strategic objectives.
    • Companies need to get out of siloes – the ESG agenda must come from the top down or companies run the risk of it not being integrated into the overall corporate strategy. Executive-level engagement will also ensure awareness across the business.
    • It’s important to have broader employee engagement through grassroots efforts.
  5. While many corporate leaders want to engage in health priorities that matter, they often struggle with execution.
    • A key challenge for corporate leaders is where to get involved and how best to support the health of employees.
    • Employees want their leaders involved in issues that they care about. In fact, three out of four employees expect employers to get involved with political and cultural issues.
    • Health is a multifaceted issue; leaders must balance a desire to help with respecting their employees’ privacy. For example, one corporation saw divorce rates on the upswing and began offering marital counseling as a company benefit. This move resulted in strong employee pushback from those who felt it was an invasion of privacy.
    • Thinking in absolutes presents major challenges for companies. In a tight labor market, certain policies such as a vaccine mandate could put them at risk of losing employees.
    • There is no one-size-fits-all-solution for every employer. Businesses should work alongside government (See examples in #9 below).
    • There is no single metric that determines if a company is doing well with ESG, but developing consistent reporting standards as they relate to specific, strategic planning helps.
  6. Corporate values can drive how you prioritize health issues in your organization.
    • Lean on your corporate values to help make these decisions by asking, “What values are most important to my company?” Take a step back and find links between your values and various ESG issues – including health.
    • Materiality assessments, formal exercises aimed at engaging stakeholders to find out how important specific environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are to them, can help.
    • Don’t do it all. The CEO should tackle a few key issues, while empowering CSR and employee resource groups to get involved with less critical issues.
    • Well-intentioned statements by a company’s leaders can backfire as a result of a firm’s operating environment, bad timing, and misalignment of values.
  7. Lean on your employee communicators to clarify your message and build engagement and understanding about your organization’s ESG journey.
    • Internal communications are critical. Professional communicators can help the CEO and other leaders clearly define the company’s values and connect them to ESG.
    • Well-placed and empowered corporate communicators can see cross-functionally,  providing a lens on what is going on across an organization and ensuring that executives are connecting those dots.
  8. There is a strong debate on the growing role of companies versus government, but consensus on the need to cultivate strong private/public partnerships to ensure better health outcomes.
    • Government policies can help a company balance health for employees when there are multiple competing factors at play.
      • For example, the Biden administration mandate requiring vaccines of all companies with 100+ employees would mean employees with many options for work cannot blame the employer for requiring them to get vaccinated.
    • Companies and organizations often have a lot more brand resources and reach than government agencies because CEOs are deeply concerned about reputational risk.
    • Governments can’t do this alone – that’s why we rely on successful private/public partnerships.
  9. Get inspired: health equity standouts
    • Mining: The mining industry isn’t known for taking a stance on health and sustainability issues, but Anglo America is an exception, building communities where they have mines. “Our mines and host communities, which are often home to much of our workforce, operate as an ecosystem and both must be healthy to proper,” the company stated in its global employee and community response to COVID-19.
    • Pharma: Biopharma companies like Pfizer have issued sustainability bonds or community grants to address social determinants of health and environmental stewardship to favorably impact the health of society.
    • Banking: The country’s second-largest bank has personally felt the effects of the wave of mass U.S. shootings. After 150 Bank of America employees lost their lives and other family members were hurt or killed during mass shootings, CEO Brian Moynihan felt he had to do something and stopped lending to makers of military-style guns, in a move that was embraced by employees and initially criticized by some investors. “This is coming from our teammates saying we have to help,” he said during a shareholder meeting in April 2018.

Related Resources:

Culture of Health for Business, a GRI and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation consensus-based framework for ESG indicators to help businesses report on their culture of health 

Engaging in Responsible Business Practices: Driving Systemic Change at Scale by Jeana Wirtenberg from Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation