Frank O'Donnell: responsible businesses are gaining competitive advantage

Responsible business is no longer the tick-box item for companies as it was in the early nineties.

In the present period of increasing alarm over global warming and seismic shifts for the world’s major economies, responsible business is now essential – not only to the day-to-day operation of an organisation, for everything from waste recycling to staff retention, but also to its longevity.

Business leaders are increasingly acknowledging the need to look after their staff, and not simply because it is the right thing to do but because the productivity benefits of embracing such practices as flexible working are becoming clearer.

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In this issue of Vision Scotland, we speak to Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS)about what steps companies can take to make the lives of parents easier.

The Glasgow-based organisation, which is funded by the Scottish Government, says it is working towards a step change in attitudes among employers when it comes to flexible working measures, such as compressed hours and working remotely.

Pursuit Marketing, a firm situated in Glasgow which has worked with FFWS, saw a 30 per cent increase in productivity when it switched to a four-day week for its staff.

The company, which has taken on 90 people in the past two years, say they now no longer have to advertise as Pursuit’s current employees are the firm’s best ambassadors.

There may be a trend to a shorter working week, but nevertheless we all face a future where more of us will be working for longer in our lifetimes. Therefore, it is vital that we learn to innovate when it comes to the way in which we work, to take into account the physical and emotional needs of our workforce.

It is therefore refreshing that the Scottish Government has thrown its financial muscle behind finding a solution.

The need to tackle stress at work is explored in our feature with the not-for-profit Business in the Community Scotland.

It is estimated that 11 million work days are lost to stress each year in the UK at a cost of £5 billion to the economy.

While the stigma around mental health does appear to be lifting, research by Business in the Community Scotland found that there is still a gap between the support for people experiencing mental health problems at work, and those with other more visible physical health issues.

This is a major problem for Scottish business and could be linked to our relatively low productivity levels when compared to other European countries.

Another area where the country could be performing better is in relation to our physically disabled workforce. They represent a woefully underused resource, both for working in our industries and working for themselves. However, they are being ably represented in this issue by disability inclusion advocate Dr Julie McElroy.

Also in this edition, we look at how the whisky industry – one of Scotland’s largest
employers – is embracing sustainable business in relation to the environment and helping its employees to develop professionally.

Glenmorangie’s environmental project, in partnership with Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, has led to the reintroduction of oysters to their once native waters in the Highlands is a great example of business – literally – putting something back into its local community.

Bearing in mind such responsible behaviour, we ask high-profile movers and shakers from various sectors to tell us about the beneficial effects on their organisations from acting in an altruistic manner.

We also hear the inspiring story of Mechelle Clark who, following redundancy from the oil and gas sector, set up her own cheese toastie shop called Melt in Aberdeen.

Despite only opening in 2016, the shop has attracted a cult following and counts First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Holyrood and screen legend Donald Sutherland of Hollywood among its customers.

Clark’s venture has been such a success that Melt 2, which will feature Scotland’s first all-cheese restaurant, is set to open shortly.

The 34-year-old’s business success story is one of determination, hard work and innovation, and a great example of what can be done with a simple yet strong idea.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. A digital version can be found here.