Building Sustainable Organizations

Yesterday I read Jeffrey Pfeffer’s article on Building Sustainable Organization. Pfeffer teaches organizational behavior at Stanford’s graduate school of business. His research spans several topics from power and leadership in organizations, to creating organizations focused on human well being. 

His article argues for refocusing the definition of a sustainable organization from environment to human well being. I was really surprised to learn how long work hours, income dispersion within the work place, and poor job design (variable work hours, social contact) are directly related to things like mortality rates, depression, and cardiovascular disease. 

For example, if a person who is age 40+ is laid off she will live on average 1.5 years less than others. An employers decision on whether to lay somebody off often times doesn’t take into account the decreased well being and lifespan of their employees. The same holds true for an employer’s decision to provide health insurance. 

Pfeffer argues that, although business is focused on profit maximization, given the serious implications of their decisions they should try to account for human well being. In addition, a lot of organizations are building brands around sustainability and going green yet do not pay nearly enough attention to the sustainability of their employees, such as Walmart. Although, the environment is very important, equally important should be the well being of other humans. 

I found this article really interesting since it shows how our day to day experiences can have profound effects on our lives. I think a lot of the points he makes is true across every experience in life, work is an easy one to focus on since it dominates most people’s time after education. If you go to work everyday to a job you don’t enjoy, that stresses you out, and makes you unhappy you are putting yourself at risk. 

I hope the business environment does change to account for well being, since there are a lot of people that don’t have the liberty to switch jobs given their circumstances. However, if you are blessed to have the liberty to change jobs, it is important to exercise it as it will benefit your overall well being, in addition to showing businesses they have to take into account employee well-being to hire quality people. 

It is also interesting to think about the role of mindfulness in situations where a person works at a place with really high stress levels and poor job design. Our thoughts, beliefs, and reactions creates this “suffering” that results in these adverse effects. If we spent time cultivating awareness and practicing mindfulness I wonder how that may change the results of these work place studies. 


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