Board oversight of workforce well-being

Focus areas for boards as they broaden their talent oversight responsibilities.

The intersection of COVID-19, an economic recession, and protests calling for racial equality have cast an even brighter spotlight on how companies are treating their employees and adjusting their talent development strategies amid the shift to stakeholder capitalism. According to a survey conducted by JUST Capital—a nonprofit research organization focused on inclusive capitalism—nearly 9 in 10 Americans see this moment as an opportunity for large companies to hit “reset” and focus on doing right by their workers and other stakeholders.1

In recent months, employee health, safety, and well-being has taken on a new and expanded meaning and has become the focus of a wide range of stakeholders. Instituting hazard pay and providing personal protective equipment for frontline workers, creating safe and productive work-from-home options when possible, implementing flexible working hours, and providing additional time off to care for dependents are becoming more widespread practices. And many companies have made public commitments to achieve progress on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), with employees, investors, and other stakeholders monitoring the fulfillment of those commitments. Widening economic inequality2 and growing acknowledgement that successful strategy execution hinges on the company’s talent base—further highlighted by COVID-19—has led some boards to expand their talent oversight responsibilities to include all workers, not just those in the C-suite.

As directors oversee workforce well-being in this new environment, we highlight three areas for board attention:

  • Prioritize and reassess the meaning of worker health, safety, and well-being.
  • Reevaluate DE&I efforts at all levels.
  • Take a fresh look at the company’s talent development strategy.



1 Yusuf George, Amanda Keating, and Alison Omens, “Labor Day 2020: Workers’ Voices Must Be Heard—Not Silenced—in the Fight Against COVID-19 and Systemic Racism,” JUST Capital, September 3, 2020.

2 Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik, and Rakesh Kochhar, “Most Americans Say There Is Too Much Economic Inequality in the U.S., but Fewer Than Half Call It a Top Priority,” Pew Research Center, January 9, 2020.

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