I run across a lot of acronyms in my job. If you work anywhere in government, higher education or consulting, you probably do too. There’s one acronym that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. But not for the reasons you might think.

A broader definition of ESG

You’ll find many definitions of ESG (environmental, social and governance) depending on who you talk to or what your focus is. But most commonly, ESG criteria help in evaluating companies and potential investments beyond financial factors in terms of their sustainability commitments. Put simply, ESG is a loose measurement of doing good business by doing good for people, society and the planet.

ESG gets to the heart of what public service institutions do—to what their true mission and purpose should be. The social aspect of ESG is textbook public service. By providing for and bettering how people live and work, these institutions are inherently socially aware and socially responsible. Governance in this broad context is about demonstrating leadership in governing in fair and equitable ways. And, the sustainability focus of ESG equates with the public service’s role in sustaining society and our way of life.

The talent crisis is raging

I hope that my thinking doesn’t sound too ivory tower. Because the reality is that ESG is moving front and center in how we measure what organizations do and the impacts they make. ESG is a newly rising North Star that public service leaders who want to lead from the front can’t ignore.

Let’s take an ESG lens to an issue that has organizations scrambling to provide even the most basic services. The talent crisis was bad was before the pandemic, and it’s worse now. There were more than 800,000 vacant public sector openings in the United States in August 2021. These openings have been devastating. States are struggling to get social services benefits to people due to staffing issues. I recently read about the impacts of the shortage of public defenders in my own state of Minnesota.

We’ve all seen staffing shortages over the last year or so. If you’ve waited an hour for your meal at your favorite restaurant, found some shelves bare at the grocery store or are disappointed that your veterinarian no longer has weekend hours, you’ve experienced the impacts. But when the work of the people grinds to a halt, the consequences can be extreme. Case in point: With the average employee turnover rate in child welfare hitting 40%, the ripple effect is tremendous. The workforce takes knowledge and relationships with them, and kids and families suffer.

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ESG is a newly rising North Star that public service leaders who want to lead from the front can’t ignore.

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Matching skills to demand

Here’s the paradox that we all must solve for urgently.

While the talent crisis is raging in every public service segment (and across the private sector too), there’s a whole pool of workers who are potentially being overlooked. These “hidden workers” have skills and a strong desire to work and learn. They include caregivers, veterans and military spouses, immigrants and refugees, and people with physical disabilities, mental health or developmental challenges, and those from less-advantaged groups. Our recent study found that last year there were more than 27 million hidden workers in the Unites States alone.

If public service organizations look at things from an ESG lens, there’s an obvious solve. Match hidden workers’ skills to far-from-hidden talent gaps. This is the essence the ESG spirit of caring for people and society, governing in a pragmatic way, and sustaining government services.

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A responsibility to act

Organizations that aren’t already thinking about overhauling certain recruiting and hiring processes are already behind. My message? As you’re doing these things, don’t just consider how ways of working have and will change. Shine a light on all the talent potential you can using and ESG lens.

And finally, Accenture research in Europe that our CEO Julie Sweet recently mentioned reveals another linkage between ESG and talent. The workforce wants sustainability commitments from their employers. More and more, people are factoring in prospective employers’ sustainability practices in choosing whether to accept a new position. I encourage you to use all that I’ve explored here as a jumping off point to think more about the connections between talent and ESG. Your constituents—and your workforce—will thank you for it.

Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and stay tuned for upcoming blogs.


This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors. This document refers to marks owned by third parties.  All such third-party marks are the property of their respective owners.  No sponsorship, endorsement or approval of this content by the owners of such marks is intended, expressed or implied.

Ryan R. Gaetz

Managing Director – Consulting, Accenture Workday Education & Government​ Lead

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