Should we work when it is excessively hot? It has nothing to do with the so-called woke ESG left but does relate to ESG and good business.

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It’s funny; as a heat wave stretches across much of the northern hemisphere, a school of thought emerges suggesting that it is somehow left-wing and snowflakish to complain.  One tweet did the rounds suggesting that “now the woke ESG left want it to be the law that we don’t have to work when it is sunny.”

But stop there — actually, wouldn’t it be great if public holidays when temperatures rise above, say, 30 degrees centigrade was an automatic thing — why is it left-wing or woke to want that? No, the only problem is one of practicality. What business can operate if it shuts down the moment a staff member says, ‘phew’, it’s hot here?”

But the real issue at stake here has nothing to do with left-wing or wokeness; it is about good business sense and optimising productivity and profitability in a way that is fully cognizant of the subtleties and nuances of human behaviour — and that is where ESG comes into the story.

It is getting hotter

And the issues being discussed here are going to become more important. In the UK, a quite absurd trope is doing the rounds comparing the heat wave of 2022 with another hot summer — 1976. “We just got on with it”, suggests the line of reasoning. By definition, the critique comes only from older people — baby boomers mainly, even the oldest of generation X had only just turned 12. Yet there is a flaw.

For one thing, in 1976, the media were packed with warnings about keeping cool and stories about how difficult it was to work and then there was a drought and advice about sharing bath water. For another thing, 1976 was an exceptional year in the UK. Today a heatwave stretches across Europe, Asia and in pockets within North America. Furthermore, it is not so exceptional. Returning to the UK, nine out ten of the hottest days ever recorded in the UK have occurred since 1990.  Furthermore, 2003, 2006, 2018 and 2019 all saw summers comparable to 1976.  

So that is the first important point — 1976 was an exceptional year, and the fact that baby boomers still talk about it shows that it was a big deal.  The summer of 2022 may turn out to be the hottest ever, but it is part of a trend. The summer of 2022 reaffirms the importance of net zero and reducing carbon emissions as rapidly as possible.

Fires

Then Jeremy Clarkson goes along and Tweets: “It’s very hot in the south of France, but so far as I know, there’s no DefCon 8 level 3 killer death heatwave warning in place.”

In fact, the heat wave is dominating headlines in France, which has seen evacuations because of fires caused by the heat and extreme heat warnings.  

But Jeremy Clarkson follows a familiar line of logic  — elsewhere, you read, “how do they manage in Southern Europe?” 

Actually, across much of Southern Europe, they manage by working early, sleeping in the afternoon and working late. And living and working in conditions designed to help people keep cool. 

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Good business

But for employers to take extreme weather into account is good business.  It boils down to maximising productivity without losing the trust of employees. 

In some countries, such as the UK, working in extremely hot weather is a relatively new experience, and legislation is perhaps behind the curve, or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is behind the sun.

But in countries including Spain, Germany and China, there is already regulation relating to working in hot temperatures.  

But Covid has taught us how to work flexibly; we have learned from Covid that presenteeism does not necessarily mean high productivity—indeed, it is often the opposite.

In some cases, output might be higher if staff work early morning or evening; and from home.

In other cases, the office might have especially good air conditioning, so working from the office might be preferable to working from home.

But above all, it is about common sense, managers talking to staff, and understanding the optimal working arrangements.

It is neither woke nor left to change working practices to suit the weather; it is good business.

This is relevant to ESG because:

  • There is an S in ESG — S for social. It is about understanding ways to create social policies that support staff and help create optimal working conditions 
  • There is a G in ESG — G for governance. Good governance will also have policies designed to support staff and create optimal working conditioning.
  • There is an E in ESG — E for the environment. In the two examples above: S and G, it is about finding working practices which support staff and productivity. But the high temperatures highlight why net-zero is so important.

Adapting working practices to take account of extreme weather is neither left nor woke; instead, it is an enlightened working practice designed to keep staff loyalty while maintaining productivity. It is just good business. 

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