UK mental health benchmark provides ‘reliable tool’ for investor engagement

British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola HBC AG, easyJet, Flutter Entertainment, Glencore, Greggs, and Shell among firms at the “start of the journey”.

Most of the UK’s largest employers publicly acknowledge mental health as an important business concern but many have a considerable way to go to formalise their management and reporting on workplace mental health, an analysis by CCLA has found. 

Launched on Thursday, the investor’s Corporate Mental Health Benchmark assesses 100 of the UK’s largest employers listed on the London Stock Exchange by evaluating public disclosures on workplace mental health, using 27 assessment criteria that are “aligned with international standards and frameworks on psychological safety at work”. 

Based on their scoring against these criteria, the benchmark ranks companies across five tiers according to the maturity of their approach to managing and reporting on workplace mental health. 

Benchmarked companies include household names such as Unilever, Tesco, Coca-Cola, AstraZeneca and Shell. The financial sector is represented by top-tier firms such as Aviva, Barclays, Legal & General Group, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Chartered. 

According to CCLA, the aim of the benchmark is to incentivise employers to create conditions under which workers can thrive, and to highlight the economic link between thriving workers and healthy, sustainable companies. 

The results of the analysis were mixed. While 93 percent of companies surveyed acknowledge workplace mental health as an important business issue, only 34 percent publish formal objectives and targets, and 11 percent disclose any related key performance indicators. 

The report also found that, while 44 percent of companies have a clear position on promoting a culture of openness on mental health, public CEO advocacy is broadly lacking. Only 35 percent of benchmark company CEOs have publicly signalled a leadership commitment to promoting mental health in the workplace, “making it difficult for investors to gauge the extent to which company leaders are championing mental health”. 

Overall, only three companies – Centrica, Lloyds Banking Group, and Serco Group – were highlighted as leading the way on workplace mental health management and disclosure. 

Anthony Kirby, Serco’s group chief operating officer, told Responsible Investor: “Supporting our colleagues with their mental health and wellbeing is extremely important. All our people have access to confidential advice and support, we have specific mental health training for colleagues who manage teams, we actively encourage open discussions about mental health and there is a network of wellbeing allies across our international business.”

Among the companies in tier five – which CCLA categorises as companies “at the start of the journey to adopting a formal approach to workplace mental health management and disclosure” – were British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola HBC AG, easyJet, Flutter Entertainment, Glencore, Greggs and Shell. 

At the time of publication, the named tier five firms had not responded to Responsible Investor’s request for comment.

Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said: “Mental health affects every employer. In 2020/21, we surveyed over 40,000 staff working across 114 organisations taking part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index. Two in five (41 percent) told us their mental health had worsened during the pandemic. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff, which can include employees with mental health problems.

“Investing in staff wellbeing also makes business sense, as employers who promote good mental health at work are more likely to report higher productivity and morale, as well as reduced sickness absence.” 

David Atkin, chief executive officer at the Principles for Responsible Investment, said the benchmark would be a useful addition to investors’ toolkit. 

“Investors can encourage the companies they invest in to adopt workplace mental health strategies and engage with them to help drive best practice,” he said. “Accountability is also key, and reliable tools such as the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark will help investors understand the relative performance of companies and engage accordingly.” 

A sister benchmark – the Global 100 – is expected to launch in October 2022.