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Should HR Professionals Use a Circular Economy Concept in the Workplace?

  • Blog
  • 28 February 2020

What is a Circular Economy?

According to WRAP, a circular economy is ‘an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.’ This concept is extremely important in the current political and socio climate, as issues such sustainability and the protection of the environment become increasingly popular and important topics. This is especially true with the newer generations: Millennials and Generation Z. These generations will soon make up more than 50% of our workforce, so can HR professionals learn from the issues, concepts and trends that matter most to these generations and apply them to the workforce?

You might not necessarily think of the circular economy concept as being very relevant to your organisation’s HR and overall business strategy. However, there are important lessons to learn and interesting parallels to be made.


Lessons to Learn

Let’s look at the business as a whole, its objectives, strategies and workforce. If we have a workforce who upcycle, recycle, reuse and adapt material objects to further its lifetime and number of uses, can we apply the same methodology to the workforce? Can we maximise the value from our employees by retraining and reskilling? And, will this in turn, produce a happier, more productive workforce who are challenged in ways in which their mind-sets work outside their working environment? Surely, job roles and skill sets can be adapted to suit the changing business needs.


Linear to Circular

In previous years, you could say that the linear model – make, use, dispose – has been applied to workforce talent. i.e. hire for a certain job role, job role no longer needed, redundancy. The linear model in today’s world is out of date, or should at least be challenged, as the 4th Industrial Revolution blurs technology and human job roles.

Everywhere we turn, we see celebrities, activists, and even teenagers across the globe helping to change the norms and values of society regarding our use consumption, attitude towards and understanding of the Earth’s natural resources. Whether that be Jane Fonda wearing a dress 6 years old to the 2020 Oscars; Extinction Rebellion closing-down the bridges of London; or Greta Thunberg persuading thousands of schoolchildren to go on strike. Consumers are starting to understand that one-use products and the way in which we have become accustomed to living, have a detrimental effect on our planet. HR must learn from these global trends.


Restructuring the Workforce

When an organisation is going through a period of change, job roles are reviewed and gap analysis’ completed. Are HR professionals doing all they can to retain their current workforce and adapt their skill sets to provide the organisation with alternative options regarding its restructure? A recent study by the World Economic Forum predicted that 65% of schoolchildren would be employed in jobs that do not yet exist in the future. For example, within the waste management industry, many manual jobs will may become obsolete in the future with AI technology being rapidly implemented in sorting plants. These are more efficient than their human counterparts are. Not to mention economically cheaper in the long-run. Modern recycling facilities are almost 100% automated – with only a 3 or 4 members of staff needed to run whole plants.

Many people are beginning to understand that their careers will not be linear as they were 20 years or more ago. Redeployment within the workforce, and utilising the notion of a circular workforce, is a concept that HR professionals can adopt to ensure business success.


How to Adopt a Circular Workforce

You can adopt a circular workforce in many ways. To begin with, you must understand your workforce. Unveil the hidden talents, strengths and passions within your organisation. Carrying out gap analysis alongside future business goals will allow you to understand the direction the organisation is moving in, and you can then seek out or plan to create the skills you need. Offering training to employees to increase their knowledge in critical future areas will future proof your organisation. If your organisation can provide a working environment where professional and personal development is important and encouraged, your workforce will be more adaptable, productive and value will be maximised.


The trend to move to a circular workforce, not only incorporates the values of the newer generations, but could be key to businesses not only surviving, but thriving in the 4th industrial revolution. Would incorporating these values into your business strategy help you retain, nurture and maximise the potential from your workforce?

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