Submitted by: Mary Ellen Powell, Consultant, Marketing & Leadership Development, Take Charge Consultants, Inc.

Just as we worry about and take steps to care for the planet’s depleting energy sources, organizations don’t want their primary energy sources – their employees – to run dry either. Yet each day in this complex business world proves to be a little more challenging than the day before. Employees at every level are being asked to do more with less. According to the 2011 North American Towers Watson Talent Management and Rewards Survey of 218 companies in the United States and 98 companies in Canada, 65% of U.S. firms report their employees have been working more hours over the past three years, and more than half (53%) expect this trend to continue over the next three years. Additionally, about one in three (33%) companies said their employees have been using less of their vacation or personal time over the past three years. It is no wonder that three out of every four American workers describe their work as stressful.

According to the National Life Insurance Company, people in high-stress jobs are three times more likely than others to suffer from stress-related medical conditions and are twice as likely to quit. The economic consequences are alarming. Absenteeism, lower productivity, insurance costs, and employee turnover are estimated to cost organizations $200 billion a year. Considering the cost, ensuring that your primary resources – employees – are sustainable may be the most important challenge your business faces in the 21st century!

By definition, “sustainable” is a method of harvesting, or using, a resource so that the resource is not depleted. Sustainability is the capacity to endure. No organization is solely run by computers or machines. Behind every great machine is a human. The organizations that will survive and thrive are those that take conscious, specific, consistent actions to ensure the sustainability of their people. Three easily implemented (and primarily cost free) methods to ensure the sustainability of your workforce are:

1. Create greater working flexibility: Job-sharing, one-day a week work at home, flex-time and compensatory time off prevent employee burn out, allow for people to have more control of their schedules, encourage accountability and prompt the development of time management.

2. Institute mindfulness breaks: Allow time for people to stretch, meditate, or relax. Better yet, why not offer lunchtime sessions that rejuvenate – yoga, tai chi, or a walking club? People need breaks, they need to recharge, not only mentally but physically as well. While walking through Wegmans, one of the fastest growing high-end grocery stores in the northeast United States, you will hear a voice over the in-store speaker system encouraging the employees to stretch. Sitting at a computer for extended hours can cause organs to compress, skeletal/muscular systems to strain, and a decrease in energy and alertness. Ten to fifteen minutes of meditation is all it takes to recharge the brain according to www.meditationrocks.com.  All of this can be done individually, in a group, by using a guide or in the form of yoga and exercise. Keep your employees happy and healthy, and they will keep delivering their best.

3. Provide learning opportunities.  A few examples of easy to