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How Green Is Your Workplace?

May 28, 2019

By Becca Broaddus

It was a simple cup of coffee that guided KyongJi Han to her latest research project.

Han, who was working on her PhD at Rutgers, was in her office one morning, drinking coffee from a disposable cup, when her supervisor happened by.

“He saw that I had a Styrofoam cup with coffee and he got really angry,” Han said, “and he said, ‘Hey. It's not really good for the environment. We have mugs. Why don't you use the mugs?’ He had been watching me. If I did something wrong in terms of green behavior, he pointed it out.”

That interaction led Han and her co-authors to research and publish the article “A Cross Level Investigation on the Linkage Between Job Satisfaction and Voluntary Workplace Green Behavior” in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of Business Ethics.

Han, an associate professor of Management, said workplace green behavior can be acts as simple as recycling paper and cardboard or taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator.

“Those are behaviors (that show you) care about environmental sustainability and, at the same time, saves energy for the company,” she said.

Han said that there are a few ways that employers can encourage workplace green behavior from employees. First, simply ensure that company policies include directives aimed at sustainability. Then, since employees sometimes balk at directives from above, supervisors should set an example.

“You lead others by showing them you care about the environment,” Han said. “So rather than using the elevator, walk up. In this way you can model for them. Maybe employees engage in green behavior better if they see their bosses doing it instead of engaging in green behavior because their bosses say they have to do it.”

Han, by the way, practices what she preaches. Her office is on the second floor of the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, and she teaches on the third and fourth floors.

“If there are more than four floors, then I will use the elevator,” she said. “But from the first floor to fourth floor, then I will use stairs.”

Another way that organizations can encourage sustainable behavior is through what motivates many people: money.

“Possibly you can shape your (human resource) practices that compensate employees (who) care about environmental issues,” Han said. “For example, you can give them paid volunteer time off.”

Han and her co-authors used for their research a job satisfaction survey given to employees of a financial firm in South Korea. And instead of surveying the employees for the sustainability portion of the study, the researchers instead surveyed the supervisors as well.

“We didn’t ask employees how much they’re engaging in green behavior. We asked their bosses,” Han said. “Staff would be kind of biased. ‘Oh, I’m not doing that green behavior, but I’m doing this.’ So we asked bosses to rate their employees’ green behaviors.”

And employees were, for the most part, taking part in sustainable actions, the bosses reported. By comparing the employee satisfaction survey with the green behavior results gleaned from the bosses, Han and her co-authors found that happy employees do, in fact, take part in more green behavior activities, “and then by doing so, they may feel happier,” Han said.

“That is like a process. Keep your positive attitude and positive emotions in the workplace. We need to make our employees happy and satisfied with their jobs to promote their green behavior.”

Han’s research also showed that, at least in the South Korean firm, women are more likely to engage in green behavior, and they’re setting a good example.

“Females are there, they are doing green behavior,” she said, “but males in the team, they are watching what the females are doing and they are following.”

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