Investments aligned with this Strategic Goal aim to improve occupational safety and health, as well as broader physical and mental well-being, among all workers and their families. This may include reactive measures to address workplace stress or gender-specific interventions focusing on areas such as violence at work, as well as proactive measures to improve job fulfillment and promote healthy lifestyles.


Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Work impacts people’s health and well-being in many different ways. Some occupations or tasks may be laborious and carry the risk of injury, or worse; meanwhile, almost all jobs carry psychosocial risk, such as some level of stress or anxiety, including both physical and mental health challenges related to discrimination or prejudice. Keeping workers safe, mentally and physically healthy, satisfied, and engaged helps individuals—and the organizations for which they work—to maximize their potential and create positive working environments.

Stress and exposure to any form of violence in the workplace has negative implications for individuals, businesses, and society; workers may suffer mental and physical health impairments, sometimes with long-term effects. Witnesses or bystanders to bullying, harassment, and other types of violence may be affected when there is a climate of fear. This can negatively impact job satisfaction and commitment (1). Good health and well-being can therefore drive employee engagement and organizational performance (2). Conversely, companies that fail to mitigate employee stress and provide a violence-free environment could experience increased absenteeism from sickness, higher turnover rates, and reduced productivity. Such companies also face reputational risk (3).

Investments aiming to improve workplace well-being can support companies to:

  • ensure physically safe workplaces (through access to training and proper equipment, mechanisms for worker engagement, renovating infrastructure, and increasing budget allocations);
  • implement measures to eliminate harassment, violence, and bullying (through strong human resources departments, rigorous code of conduct and worker protection policies, safeguarding and zero-tolerance policies, and safe mechanisms for grievances);
  • encourage fulfilling and meaningful work (through mechanisms for worker engagement to provide input on their work activities);
  • mitigate stress and anxiety and support work-life balance (through overtime and working hour policies, parental leave provisions, childcare and elderly care support provisions, and flexible working conditions); and
  • offer access to additional health and well-being services (through benefits and health programs, including those addressing mental health).

Target stakeholders can then experience the following commonly sought outcomes, among others:

  • Improved occupational safety, with accordingly improved quality of life
  • Improved mental health and well-being

What is the scale of the problem?

According to ILO estimates, every year close to three million people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases, alongside 374 million work-related injuries. In addition to the vast human cost of this daily adversity, the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices reaches an estimated 3.94% of global GDP (4). Global estimates of mental health and wellbeing are scarce, but work in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom has assessed their impact. A Deloitte study in Canada found that annual direct costs totaled around CAD 50 billion (roughly USD 38 billion), affecting 500,000 workers per week, and another in the United Kingdom estimated the annual costs around GBP 33 to 42 billion, with around 1,800 employees per 100,000 reporting stress, anxiety, or depression caused or made worse by work (5,6).


Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Improving health and well-being at the workplace positively impacts workers and their families, as well as the enterprises at which they work. The following groups are most directly impacted.

  • Women: Women disproportionately work in unpaid care, negatively impacting their health and well-being (through anxiety and sleep deprivation, for example) (7). Women may also experience higher levels of violence and harassment in the workplace (8). Investments aiming to improve workers’ well-being must account for gender, and investors should make sure gender-responsive company policies and procedures (such as training and awareness raising campaigns) are put in place.
  • People with Disabilities: An estimated one billion people, or 15%, of the world’s population, have disabilities, and about 80% are of working age (9). The right of people with disabilities to decent work, however, is frequently denied. People with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, face enormous attitudinal, physical, and informational barriers to equal opportunities in the world of work (9). Investees should consider specific health and well-being improvements that are inclusive for those workers who have a disability (such as health and safety policies that reflect the needs of workers with disabilities and physical accommodations for access).
  • Individuals in Low-Skilled Jobs or Precarious Employment and Disadvantaged or Marginalized Groups, Including Migrants, Incarcerated Populations, and Disadvantaged Racial and Ethnic Groups: Workers in precarious conditions are less likely to receive adequate safety training, less likely to have proper equipment, conditions, and pay, and more likely to be responsible for the most dangerous tasks (10). A precarious work relationship itself can contribute to poor emotional and mental health (11). Effects may be felt particularly in countries with weak labor regulations, social protections, and health systems, offering little protection to or compensation for workers in the event of ill-health. Investments aligned with this Strategic Goal must account for the health and well-being of all workers, especially those who could be in precarious or vulnerable positions, as investees implement relevant measures to improve health and well-being.

The following are intermediate target stakeholders for this Strategic Goal.

  • Employers that focus on employee well-being benefit from positive reputational effects and increased job satisfaction, which leads to increased productivity. Studies in Europe estimate that 50–60% of working days lost due to sickness can be attributed to work-related stress, with huge costs for employers, and other studies have shown that EUR 1.00 invested in promoting workplace health returns between EUR 2.50 and 4.80 in reduced absenteeism costs (12,13). Investment in a safe, violence-free environment improves long-term business performance by reducing the number of accidents, rate of absenteeism, and churn rate, empowering workers and increasing productivity. Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) face particular challenges to providing good working conditions, often being characterized by unsafe working environments; smaller enterprises have higher incidence of occupational hazards than larger ones (14). Governments benefit from investments in this Strategic Goal, as the often high overall cost of work-related accidents and diseases, including stress-related ones, is ultimately borne by the public.

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

The cost of work-related accidents varies by region. The highest losses as a percent of GDP are found in the low- and middle-income countries of Southeast Asia (4.5%), and the smallest losses are found in high-income countries (3.2%). In Africa, losses are estimated at 4% of GDP (15).

The results of a survey on working conditions in 31 EU countries indicated that 2% of workers (10 million) are subject to physical violence from people at their workplace, 4% of workers (20 million) are subject to physical violence from people outside their workplace, 2% of workers (10 million) are subject to sexual harassment, and 5% of workers (25 million) are subject to intimidation and bullying (17). These rates may underreported, as many survivors of harassment choose not to report for a variety of reasons. Rates of violence are higher for those in precarious employment, women are more exposed to sexual harassment, and work intensity seems to exacerbate tensions in the workplace (18).


Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

Organizations can consider contribution at two levels — at the enterprise level and at the investor level. At the enterprise level, contribution is “the extent to which the enterprise contributed to an outcome by considering what would have otherwise happened in absence of their activities (i.e. a counterfactual scenario).” To learn more about methods for assessing counterfactuals, see the Impact Management Project. At the investor level, organizations can use a number of strategies to contribute toward impact, and details specific to this Strategic Goal are below.

Investors in projects that improve health and well-being in the workplace can contribute toward solutions as follows.

  • Signal that impact matters. Providing a safe and healthy work environment enables enterprises to become more productive, saving long-term costs and positively impacting workers’ well-being. By investing in projects targeting improvements in health and well-being in the workplace, or by positively screening for companies that outperform in terms of worker health and well-being, investors signal that they want to contribute to these structural changes within enterprises.
  • Engage actively. Investors can use their expertise to proactively engage with investee management around improving safety, health, and well-being in the workplace. Technical Assistance aiming to maximize investments’ impact through, for example, improvements to HR policies and processes, occupational health and safety risk assessments and actions, and infrastructure improvements, could improve and demonstrate the benefits of good management practices for workers’ well-being.
  • Growing new or undersupplied capital markets. Enterprises and employers may find it difficult to see the returns on investments in workers’ health and well-being, which they perceive to be a cost rather than an investment (23). Investors can provide capital specifically for implementing changes in companies to systematically improve these aspects in the workplace, enabling impact that would otherwise not occur.

  • Providing flexible capital. SMEs, which comprise 90% of firms worldwide, frequently face higher transaction costs and interest rates compared to large enterprises, limiting their ability to obtain financing (24, 25). SMEs therefore may need affordable capital to implement improvements to their work environments.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

The ILO estimates that some 2.3 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year, which corresponds to more than 6,000 deaths every single day (19). Worldwide, each year, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illness.

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Potential impact will vary according to the improvements targeted, which may include improvements in business infrastructure or machinery to improve safety, aspects of health (such as access to clean water and air), measures to improve the working environment (such as stress mitigation or anti-violence), or any combination of these. Some examples of the impact of improved health and well-being in the workplace include the following.

  • ILO’s Better Work Flagship program, in partnership with IFC, independently assesses working conditions in apparel factories in different countries. An impact evaluation study has shown that improved working conditions, including in terms of occupational health and safety, correlate with higher worker productivity. Workers reporting better working environments reached their daily production targets 40 minutes faster than did similar counterparts (20).
  • A study in 2012 regarding the link between job satisfaction and firm value found that companies listed among the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” generated 2.3% to 3.8% higher stock returns per year than their peers from 1984 through 2011 (21).
  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found, in its most recent Health and Wellbeing survey (2020) focusing on private-sector organizations, that companies implementing well-being activities reported 30% fewer absences from sickness, 28% better staff retention, 29% reduced work-related stress, and 22% improved productivity, among other achievements (22).


Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

Impact risk factors for investments in line with this Strategic Goal include the following.

  • Evidence Risk: Positive outcomes from investments in this Strategic Goal may require time to become evident, especially in cases related to new programs and trainings targeting occupational health and safety or mental health and well-being. The resulting lengthy timelines can create tension with or disappointment for investees. To mitigate this risk, investors can support investee companies to define intermediate KPIs or check-in points to assess if the programs are proceeding as expected and implement corrective actions, if necessary.
  • Endurance Risk: True benefit for companies and target stakeholders from improved workers’ health and well-being requires a long-term perspective, which means funding risks discontinuation. To mitigate endurance risk, investors can support investee companies to link these aspects with the company’s organizational objectives and create a culture that fosters a good working environment. Programs must also have buy-in across the company (HR, management, employees) to ensure their impact continues over time.
  • Execution Risk: Lack of financial, human, and program resources could hinder implementation of measures aligned with this Strategic Goal. Investors can support investees to focus on key impact areas when resources are limited or even leverage other external resources that could be available for interventions (27).* In another aspect of execution risk, investors could, in trying to replicate the same measures for different investees, yield unpredictable or unintended results. To mitigate this risk, investors should remain aware of investees’ specific contexts and support implementation with available information or research taken from similar contexts.
  • External Risk: Lack of strong social and regulatory frameworks supporting occupational health and safety or lack of enforcement measures by local actors present risks to intended impact. Other external risks include local traditions that perpetuate the primacy of work over private life or encourage social sanction of the needed workplace measures. These risks could lead to poor management of health and well-being measures in the workplace. To mitigate these risks, investors can engage with investee companies to tackle these issues at the organizational level and build evidence for business models that successfully improve health and well-being. Such models could then be promoted or adopted for future policymaking.

*For examples of country specific-mechanisms, see: ILO, Improving Safety and Health in Micro-, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: An overview of initiatives and delivery mechanisms, 2020.

What are likely consequences of these impact risk factors?

In general, these risks could lead to losses for the investee, investors, and, most importantly, for the target stakeholders, who suffer the most from an uncontrolled working environment in the form of long-term and negative social and economic impacts on their livelihoods and families. Investees and investors could also face reputational damage. Their intended impact may also not be achieved.

Illustrative Investment

The ILO’s Social Finance flagship program, Microfinance for Decent Work, tested innovative approaches to foster social impact through the delivery of financial and non-financial services to MFI clients. The program worked with one MFI in India (BASIX) to enhance the client’s work environment, introducing training on productivity and increased workplace safety and health. The program’s impact evaluation showed that clients decreased workplace injuries and illnesses by 11%, reduced average daily work hours by 73 minutes, and improved monthly income by USD 37; moreover, 54% of clients increased adoption of new technologies and practices to, for example, ease physical labor (28).

One of the portfolio companies of Shinsei Bank Group's HATARAKU Fund, Unifa, is a technology company that provides AI- and IoT-powered childcare solutions to track the development of nursery children and improve the working environment in the nursery industry. By providing one-stop digital service to support nursery workers’ endless and labor-intensive work, Unifa breaks the vicious circle of overwork and mental strain that would otherwise worsen turnover and lead to less time dedicated to nursery children. As of December 2019, the company has contracted 7,450 childcare facilities hosting 350,000 children (out of 34,000 across Japan).

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

Improvements in an Organization's Culture of Health Reduces Workers' Health Risk Profile and Health Care Utilization

Henke, R. M., Head, M. A., Kent, K. B., Goetzel, R. Z., Roemer, E. C., & McCleary, K. (2019). Improvements in an Organization’s Culture of Health Reduces Workers’ Health Risk Profile and Health Care Utilization. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 61(2), 96–101.

Does participating in health insurance benefit the migrant workers in China? An empirical investigation

Xuezheng Qin, Jay Pan, Gordon G. Liu, Does participating in health insurance benefit the migrant workers in China? An empirical investigation,
China Economic Review, Volume 30, 2014, Pages 263-278,

The Value of Occupational Health to Workplace Wellbeing

Kevin Daniels, Kevin Delany, Jennifer Napier, Martin Hogg, Molly Rushworth, The Value of Occupational Health to Workplace Wellbeing, 2019

Can better working conditions improve the performance of SMEs?

Can better working conditions improve the performance of SMEs?: an international literature review / Richard Croucher, Bianca Stumbitz, Ian Vickers, Michael Quinlan, Wendy Banfield, Michael Brookes, Thomas Lange, Suzan Lewis, John Mcllroy, Lilian Miles, Daniel Ozarow, Marian Rizov, International Labour Office. – Geneva: ILO, 2013

Do workplace health promotion (wellness) programs work?

Goetzel RZ, Henke RM, Tabrizi M, Pelletier KR, Loeppke R, Ballard DW, Grossmeier J, Anderson DR, Yach D, Kelly RK, McCalister T, Serxner S, Selecky C, Shallenberger LG, Fries JF, Baase C, Isaac F, Crighton KA, Wald P, Exum E, Shurney D, Metz RD. Do workplace health promotion (wellness) programs work? J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Sep;56(9):927-34. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000276. PMID: 25153303.

Racial And Ethnic Differences In The Frequency Of Workplace Injuries And Prevalence Of Work-Related Disability

Seth A. Seabury, Sophie Terp, and Leslie I. Boden, Racial And Ethnic Differences In The Frequency Of Workplace Injuries And Prevalence Of Work-Related Disability, Health Affairs 2017 36:2, 266-273.

Does worker well-being affect workplace performance?

Bryson, A., Forth, J., & Stokes, L. (2017). Does employees’ subjective well-being affect workplace performance? Human Relations, 70(8), 1017–1037.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.