Our research by industry—airline, auto, garment supply chain, etc.—identifies the ways that society can gain when products and services and communities are carefully considered in terms of business impact on people and planet. We aim to understand “good jobs and good companies” in terms of positive impact on people’s lives.
The following are some examples of challenges and opportunities companies face within a sector or industry and how our research is offering access to the touchpoints that can help leaders, policy makers, and change agents create positive change in organizations and across industries.
Garment Supply Chain
Workers’ mistreatment is a serious problem, particularly for disadvantaged populations in the global garment supply chain who are often subjected to human and labor rights violations. Through our worker well-being survey, we’re trying to understand the status of factory workers’ well-being and what drives if from the perspective of the worker. Yes, asking workers about their health directly. This approach goes beyond the usual compliance audits that review basic human rights and occupational health and safety risks.
From the evaluation and reporting standpoint, supply chain sustainability has traditionally been looked at from the vantage point of reducing environmental impact and protecting human rights. SHINE research goes deeper into understanding the cultural context of work in each country where suppliers are located and we go beyond the physical conditions, or compliance approach of occupational health and safety. We measure life satisfaction and job satisfaction, happiness and positive affect, meaning and purpose, health, and social relationships to help us understand how workplace systems and culture influence flourishing. Going beyond understanding the physical working conditions, we integrate metrics on the Caring Culture and perception of it in the workplace, and ask questions that aid our understanding people’s relationship to work within different cultures.
To date, we have surveyed over 14,000 workers across 6 countries – Cambodia, China, Mexico, Poland, Sri Lanka and U.S. – within 19 factories, and with three brands – Levi Strauss & Co, Eileen Fisher, and Target. Our survey is available in 8 languages including English, Polish, Spanish, Khmer, Tamil, Sinhala, Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional.
These data offer a sensor on the ground for public health issues in vulnerable and developing regions. We aim at uncovering the ways in which the supply chain system can create a more flourishing workforce.
Companies in general largely report on their business impacts on the environment. Their impacts on people are less reported and often limited to an occupational perspective of health – i.e. injuries and diseases. Further, most reporting is focused on outcomes and not impact. Companies share about the wellness programs and engagement rates, rather than the real impact of these programs on the health and well-being of their employees and the communities that these organizations touch. As part of our auto industry research we are examining how this industry, as it continually evolves and the nature of jobs within it changes, impacts the well-being of the environment, employees, consumers, communities and cities, in particular. To do this, we’re analyzing the metrics reported in sustainability reports. So far we’re learning that companies are largely reporting on environmental metrics and that any health metrics are mostly related to occupational health and safety. Reporting is also focused on lagging indicators rather than leading indicators and on anecdotal stories of programs that companies offer their employees, rather than reporting on impact or change that has been created in people’s work lives.
Some companies do stand out in their reporting—using the Sustainable Development Goals—to zero in on health and environmental challenges such as climate and growth of cities. To date, we have conducted over 60 interviews with top level management in 7 auto companies to understand how these companies see health in connection with their business strategy.
Our research in the airline industry as part of the Flight Attendant Health study, where we follow and periodically survey a cohort of flight attendants, as well as examine the health effects of flight in real time, aims to uncover how the workplace environment and culture affect health and well-being of flight attendants. Our research delves into understanding how schedules and navigational routes can reduce passenger and aircrew radiation dose while balancing operational demands and considerations; how sustainable modifications in aircraft design and building materials could increase oxygenation and reduce exposures to chemicals such as those found in engine exhaust, jet fuel, or textiles (i.e. brominated and fluorinated compounds), and how aircraft noise reduction can prevent hearing loss and disease in employees, passengers and airport neighborhoods.
Although aircrew are in most ways confirmed to be healthy workers in terms of cardiovascular health and other aspects of health and healthy behaviors, research consistently shows that they experience high stress levels, fatigue, and Circadian rhythm disruption. These concerns are generalizable to industry and society as a whole, including healthcare workers and people in client-facing roles. SHINE gets at the data that helps raise these concerns.
In addition to honing in on the drivers of well-being within a particular sector or business context, we connect our findings across industries. For example, psychosocial stressors are ubiquitous throughout the workforce, but many occupations also involve stressors specific to a customer- or client-facing setting. Physical or biological stressors, such as circadian rhythm disruption due to shiftwork or radiation exposure vary by the nature of the work or industry. Perhaps even more importantly, such exposures, both psychosocial and physical, are found throughout a person’s life, including in their workplace, community, and family, and all are factors that comprise overall well-being. As such, studying work provides a platform through which we can examine how one’s work environment and workplace culture can influence well-being, and the degree to which well-being can influence business outcomes.
Weziak-Bialowolska, D., Bialowolski, P., Sacco, P. L., VanderWeele, T. J., & McNeely, E. Well-being in life and well-being at work: which comes first? Evidence from a longitudinal study. Frontiers in Public Health (2020).
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Eileen McNeely and Tyler J. VanderWeele. Flourish Index and Secure Flourish Index – Validation in Workplace Settings. Cogent Psychology (2019).
Michael W. Toffel, Eileen McNeely, Matthew Preble. New Balance: Managing Orders and Working Conditions. Harvard Business School Cast Study (2019).
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Eileen McNeely, Tyler J. VanderWeele. Human Flourishing in Cross Cultural Settings. Evidence from the US, China, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Mexico. Frontiers in Psychology (2019).
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Piotr Bialowolski, and Eileen McNeely. Worker’s well-being. Evidence from the apparel industry in Mexico. Intelligent Buildings International (2019).
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Piotr Bialowolski, Eileen McNeely. The impact of workplace harassment and domestic partner violence on workplace outcomes: Evidence from the study of apparel workers in Mexico, Sri Lanka, China and Cambodia. World Development Journal (2019).
Estefania CustodioI D, Zaida Herrador, Tharcisse Nkunzimana, Dorota WęziakBiałowolska, Ana Perez-Hoyos, Francois Kayitakire. Children’s Dietary Diversity and Related Factors in Rwanda and Burundi : A Multilevel Analysis Using 2010 Demographic and Health Surveys. PLOS One (2019).
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Tamar Koosed, Carlued Leon and Eileen McNeely. A new approach to the well-being of factory workers in global supply chains: Evidence from apparel factories in Mexico, Sri Lanka, China and Cambodia. OECD, HEC Paris, & SnO centre (Eds.), Measuring the Impacts of Business on Well-Being and Sustainability (pp. 130–154) (2017).