Climate change as a top HR issue

Scientists and climate change academics express fears that climate warnings are going unheeded. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Two months after the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS) in September, policymakers, practitioners, businesses and civil society could have muted discussions meant to attain sustainable climate solutions and green growth.

In fact, scientists and climate change academics express fears that climate warnings are going unheeded.

The ACS in Nairobi aimed at addressing the increasing exposure to climate change and its associated costs on the continent, through deliberations such as enacting policies and facilitating investments necessary to unlock resources to meet climate commitments.

The Summit served as a platform for the exchange of ideas on managing the impact of climate change in areas such as energy systems and industry, cities, urban and rural settlements, infrastructure and transport, land, ocean, food and water, societies, health, livelihoods and economies.

Away from the macroeconomic impact of climate change, one emerging area of interest is how climate change is influencing employee behaviour around the world, an area not appearing as part of climate change solution discussions.

Studies show strong relationships between climatic conditions and employee behaviour aspects such as future orientation, power distance, masculinity and femininity, uncertainty avoidance and mood.

These correlations are explained below:

Future Orientation: Research has established that non-tropical societies tend to favour a lower future orientation due to a higher perceived opportunity cost of resources. People in maritime and continental climates tend to have lower future orientation scores and higher aspirations for consumption. Extreme weather and unpredictable climatic conditions have a negative impact on employee desire for long-term strategic plans. In effect, global warming has an inverse relationship with strategic planning timeframes.

Power distance: Power distance is the extent to which people believe that power is distributed unequally and accept this unequal distribution as the proper way for social systems to be organised. In organisations, power distance influences formal hierarchy, the degree of centralisation and the amount of participation in decision-making.

Researchers have established that companies in high-power distance regions tend to be more centralised and have less employee participation in decision-making. Scholars have concluded that a warm climate favours high power distance. This means that as the world becomes warmer and warmer, there is less employee involvement in decision-making. 

Masculinity and femininity: A number of scholars have found that a warm climate favours a masculine culture. Societies in cold temperatures are characterised as having low masculinity. Individuals from high-latitude countries with cold weather exhibit substantial femininity to increase their survival rates by maintaining positive cooperation between men and women. Other studies show a curvilinear relationship between climate and masculinity based on paternal investment theory to explain why culturally more masculine societies evolved in warmer climate.

According to this theory, environmental conditions regulate parental investment in sons and daughters. The presuppositions of this theory predict global warming to be a threat to inclusion and diversity in society.

Uncertainty avoidance: Employees in the temperate region show strong uncertainty avoidance. They prefer explicit rules and formally structured activities and tend to remain longer with their present employers.

Employees in colder than temperate regions show weak uncertainty avoidance tendencies and prefer implicit or flexible rules or guidelines and informal activities. Employees tend to change employers more frequently.

Mood: Several studies have shown that climate change has a positive effect on overall happiness, individual aggression, depression, political and domestic violence, optimism, marital conflict, alcoholism and suicide. Hot areas have been found to suffer more from political violence than colder ones. This means organisations will witness a surge in internal conflicts and strikes as the world gets warmer.

Therefore, in today's world, organisations need to consider the potential effects of climate change and employee behaviour on human resource policies.

The writer is a PhD Candidate at the University of Nairobi and Director for Human Resources and Corporate Sustainability at Isuzu EA.

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