Building the High Road: How to Make Responsible Workplaces the Norm


Editor's note: The following guest post is by Julia Watts, associate director at the American Sustainable Business Council, which represents the policy interests of responsible businesses.

The world of work is changing fast, and in many cases, for the better. More and more companies are taking steps to become more responsible employers, adding benefits like paid family leave or sick days, child care, retirement programs and an ownership stake for employees. These high-road practices are a win-win for businesses and workers.

“Anyone who says that providing extensive benefits is bad for business can’t possibly have run a successful business, at least not in the way I define success,” says John Abrams, president and CEO of South Mountain Co. “I walk in each morning and say to myself, ‘Wait a minute here, I get to work with all these people, all day long, and I get paid for this?’ That’s the kind of place I want to work, and that doesn’t happen by accident.”

When businesses take the high road, workers win a fair wage, family-friendly benefits and a workplace culture built on a foundation of mutual respect. In turn, businesses see increased worker productivity, retention, the ability to recruit top talent and higher profit margins. “There’s obviously a significant cost to paying $14 an hour for a warehouse operation that grows by 500 team members during Q4, but we make adjustments across the business because we see the value to our bottom line,” says Lauren Rasnake, head of people operations at UncommonGoods.

As more companies adopt these practices, they reduce employee reliance on the taxpayer-funded safety net, put more money into local economies, and improve the wellbeing of families. In the long run, with high-road workplace practices, we all win. This is what business and broader economic success looks like.


Greyston Bakery, a high road employer, specializes in brownies and second chances


But how do we create an environment where more companies can take the high road? Many businesses are constrained by outdated, low-road business models that don’t have the margins for innovation or a long-term view that sees investing in workers as anything other than an expense. If we wait for the market to change on its own, without providing policy incentives, it may take decades for high-road practices to spread beyond a mission-driven few. The lost opportunity for businesses, families and the broader economy will be devastating.

To tackle this problem, the American Sustainable Business Council has launched a multi-year, cross-sector initiative: the High Road Workplace Project. In partnership with business, government and advocacy leaders from across the country, ASBC will leverage the expertise of high-road businesses like EILEEN FISHER, Patagonia, Etsy, and Ben & Jerry's to identify new policy incentives that encourage all businesses to act with the long-term and all stakeholders in mind. Such incentives include tax credits for providing on-site child care and procurement preferences for companies that hire locally.

As ASBC CEO and co-founder David Levine has said, “If we are serious about strengthening our economy and addressing the challenges of tomorrow, then we need to support businesses that are doing well by doing good. High-road businesses provide a real pathway to closing the wealth gap, generating new jobs, and creating a sustainable economy for the future. With smart legislation we have the opportunity to create a clear market framework in which more businesses are encouraged to adopt high-road practices and everyone benefits.”

High-road businesses will continue to play a key role in building a sustainable economy. But they can’t do it alone. In order to encourage more businesses to adopt high-road practices, policy incentives are needed. Only in partnership with policymakers can we make responsible workplace practices the norm. A truly successful business understands the value in investing in its workers and the communities within which it operates. Let’s create solutions that work for business, for communities, and for workers − let’s build the high road for the future, together.

Learn more about the principles of the High Road Workplace Project here.

Julia Watts is associate director at the American Sustainable Business Council, which represents the policy interests of responsible businesses.


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