Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Teaghan Aston headshot

Education Incentives: Bridging the Gap Between Employee Retention and Social Responsibility

EY is now offering the opportunity to complete an M.A. in sustainability - and it could very well boost the firm's ongoing employee retention efforts.
By Teaghan Aston
employee retention

A stable salary does not carry the same influence it once did. The workforce wants more. In the midst of the Great Resignation, qualified candidates have plenty of job options from which to choose. People are not settling for the basic incentives that were once enough to retain and attract workers. Employees are tired of the burnout that comes with feeling like a cog in the machine, and it shows. Since April of 2021, employee retention efforts have struggled as workers have quit their jobs at historic rates.

People want opportunities for growth. Many want careers that feel purposeful. Increasingly, employees are trading in the corporate grind to support employee retention initiatives that are progressive, sustainable, and aligned with personal values. Amid the pandemic, workers realize just how fragile life can be and, in turn, are choosing to re-evaluate how they spend their time. 

Providing opportunities for educational advancement is one way that companies are scratching the itch for a deeper sense of purpose while on the clock. While employee retention incentives of this type are nothing new, the shifts brought on by the world’s current situation are shining a fresh light on their value. 

For example, professional services giant EY recently announced it will pay for its 312,000 staff members to earn a master’s degree in sustainability. It is free for all EY employees, no matter their rank, tenure or location. EY partnered with Hult International Business School to develop this new curriculum, which focuses on climate change, sustainable finance and impact entrepreneurship. 

EY is no stranger to the benefits that come with offering its employees opportunities for education. This is the company's third educational offering in partnership with Hult, which has built its own reputation for a practical, skills-based approach to higher education. 

Designed to be delivered virtually, EY’s program that allows for the completion of an M.A. in sustainability prioritizes flexibility. It also offers opportunities for workers who do not want to complete the full program to earn "badges" in subjects pertaining to the sustainability curriculum. 

EY said it introduced the new program as a part of a broader effort to retain and attract fresh staff. This followed a survey which found that 74 percent of the company's employees want opportunities to positively impact communities and the environment. However, educational incentives in the sustainability sphere also benefit the companies that choose to offer them.

As the demand for workers with "green skills" continues to increase, especially within the consulting space, firms will struggle to keep up with the demand for experts while trying to strengthen their employee retention programs. Without staff with a solid education in sustainable practices, it becomes difficult to earn client trust. With programs like the new employer sponsored MA in sustainability offered through Hult, which is the first of its kind, employees, and employers, both win. 

Additionally, in the face of climate change, there are many questions about our future and how it will look that remain unknown. "Everybody is kind of facing this upskilling and rescaling challenge — you're basically hiring people to solve problems that don't yet exist using technology that's not available," Trent Henry, EY's global vice chair of talent, recently told Business Insider

This is one reason why getting current employees up to speed and attracting new sustainability-minded employees is so important. Secondly, finding more creative solutions will be much simpler if we already have active thought leaders equipped with a base of knowledge to from which to innovate. 

By taking the initiative to develop this new M.A. in sustainability program with Hult, EY is one of the companies bridging the gap between employee retention, company growth and social responsibility.

Moving forward, other companies would likely benefit from following in EYs example of providing accessible opportunities for education in a field where experts are needed more than ever.

Image credit: Wes Hicks via Unsplash

Teaghan Aston headshot

Teaghan is a writer and chronic traveler currently based along the shores of Lake Ontario. She focuses on crafting content pertaining to sustainability, inclusivity and personal development.

Read more stories by Teaghan Aston