Everything you need to know about CCLA’s Mental Health Benchmark

Amy Browne photo

(And you do need to know, because it’s going to make your job easier)

Some of the biggest bugbears we hear about selling-in wellbeing strategies to the C-suite are that they’re not taken seriously enough, they’re seen as periphery to the core business objectives and that they’re the first budgets to be cut in a downturn.

CCLA’s new Corporate Mental Health Benchmark is possibly one of the most exciting developments ever to progress the perception of wellbeing in senior management’s eyes – and it’s the reason why we awarded it the special accolade of ‘Game changing initiative of the year’ at the Make A Difference Awards in April.

As our Global Head of Content Claire Farrow said when she handed out the award, it is an initiative that will “help maintain momentum and really embed mental health and wellbeing as a priority across organisations”. She added: “Have you heard of it? You should have! We should all be shouting about it.”

This feature will break down in simple terms why it’s so ground breaking and important.

You can see more information on the work, and link to benchmark reports here: https://www.ccla.co.uk/mental-health

Hang on – who is this CCLA? It sounds like an institution or a government body or something?

It’s a investment management company. But one with a difference because its mission is to make the world a better place through its  active ownership work. Almost exclusively, it manages money for non-profit organisations; hence the acronym which stands for ‘charities, churches and local authorities’.

Like any other investment company, it buys shares in listed businesses on behalf of its clients. Historically, this has meant investing only in ethical companies, products and services and avoiding unethical ones, such as tobacco, arms or pornography.

OK – I get that – but what does this investment company have to do with health and wellbeing?

In the last couple of decades, CCLA’s focus has shifted. It has realised that one of the most powerful ways it can make a difference in the world is through encouraging better practices in the companies it is investing in, to instigate meaningful change.

As CCLA’s Stewardship Lead Amy Browne (pictured) explains:

“As shareholders, you own part of the company. We see our role as a catalyst for change, particularly regarding areas which have not yet had the attention from investors that they deserve. We believe mental health in the workplace is one of those areas.”

CCLA’s Stewardship Lead Amy Browne

Also, recognising it needs wellbeing expertise on board, CCLA has also created an impressive expert advisory panel to oversee the development, including mover and shakers such as Paul Farmer CBE, previous Chief Executive of Mind, Remi Fernandez, Specialist, Human Rights & Social Issues, United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, and Dr Richard Caddis, Director of Health, Safety & Wellbeing and Chief Medical Officer, BT, among others.

How and when did the CCLA first start taking an interest in mental health and wellbeing?

The pandemic really highlighted the importance of corporate mental health to the investment community. During the Covid-19 outbreak, CCLA reached out to the Chief Executive of every FTSE 100 company urging them to prioritise employee mental health and asking them what they were doing. It got an impressive 74 responses, showing a keenness to engage on the topic.

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Browne says:

“It was clear that there were lots of initiatives being launched to support people but initiatives without a strategy is like shooting into space.”

CCLA’S Stewardship Lead Amy Browne

CCLA knew that the companies needed to up their strategic game when it came to mental health, so it started working on creating its unique corporate mental health benchmark.

So – in layman’s terms – how does this benchmark change the game for the mental health and wellbeing industry?

Essentially, because money talks.

The sustainability agenda shows this; it was only when investors started demanding to see climate change targets as part of companies’ performance reviews that real, tangible change and transformation started to happen.

Similarly, there has been much talk about the importance of mental health but not enough companies walking the walk and taking meaningful action, despite the proven links between productivity, profitability and wellbeing. CCLA knew that if investors started demanding progress on this front, then real change would start to happen.

So, the new corporate mental health benchmark is a tool for investors to help them assess and compare companies, by ranking 195 of the world’s largest listed companies on their approach to workplace mental health.

Why are companies going to care particularly about this benchmark?

There are two main reasons:

  1. The mobilisation of the investment community

We touched on this in the last section, but CCLA has managed to sign up 47 institutional investors to the initiative who between them manage $8.5 trillion. That is A LOT of money to talk.

“This means we go to these companies, not just as CCLA, but as the voice of the investment industry,” says Browne. “We tell them where they rank on our benchmark and our recommendations to improve.” With that much clout behind them, the companies are listening. Hard.

2. Peer pressure

The benchmark is public. Tier one is the ‘best’ and tier five shows the laggards, or those at the beginning of their mental health workplace journey.

The first ever ranking was released a year ago, and the second rankings have literally just been released earlier this month and have been eagerly anticipated by many companies who were keen to move up, especially when they realised their competitors outperformed them.

As Browne says “the power of positive peer pressure is incredible”.

But CCLA will only make a positive difference on workplace wellbeing in big companies, specifically those in the FTSE 100, won’t they?

No. The intention is that this benchmark will have a ripple effect and smaller companies will start to take note.

CCLA– a company with under 200 employees – has assessed itself against all the criteria last year and is making changes on the back of this.

How was the benchmark actually created?

CCLA mapped all of the existing workplace mental health frameworks, such as the World Health Organisation’s Healthy Workplace Framework, ISO 45003 and Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index (for a full list, see p28 of the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark UK 100 Report 2023).

On the back of this, and with the help of Chronos Sustainability, it created 27 criteria assessment criteria (these are on pages 74-5), with a possible overall top score of 212 points.

Criteria are divided into four sections:

1)management commitment and policy

2) governance and management

3) leadership and innovation, and

4) performance reporting and impact.

This assessment criteria is the same for the UK benchmark and the Global benchmark.

Two thirds of the available points are purposely focused on the management’s approach. This is because, at this point in time, the main challenge for companies at the benchmark’s outset is to formalise their systems and processes to create the right environments where mental health can thrive.

There’s a lot of well-washing happening at the moment. Will the CCLA really be able to weed out those companies genuinely committing to wellbeing, versus those just paying lip service to it?

That’s the intention.

One of the most important things to note is that the benchmark is not about measuring mental health campaigns and interventions. It’s about assessing the fundamental structure of businesses and the design of jobs within them. Afterall, you can’t paper up the cracks with wellbeing campaigns if you’ve got a culture of bullying, or not paying your people fairly or not listening to what they want around key concerns like flexible working. CCLA is onto this and not one to be well-washed.

What kinds of questions is the benchmark asking then?

Browne says:

“Does the company support the principles of ‘good work’ like fair pay and flexible working? And while the company may have a mental health policy, has it actually assigned day-to-day operational management to an individual or a committee? Is the company creating the conditions in which mental health can thrive? And a company may set targets and objectives, but does it then report on progress against those targets and objectives?”

And, as Nicky Amos, Managing Director of CSR consultancy Chronos Sustainability, who has been involved in the design of the benchmark, says:

“Of course, there is always the possibility of the mental health equivalent of green washing happening, where companies are overstating what they do. Or they believe that they can just publish policies and the job is done. But one of the beauties of an annual benchmark is it provides an accountability mechanism. We will hold companies to account in really demonstrating that they have followed through on their policy commitments.”

OK so this all sounds fine and dandy. But is there any actual proof that this benchmark is actually effecting meaningful change?

Funny you should ask that, actually as CCLA has just launched the results of the second year of this benchmark. And yes! Hurrah! There is evidence that its cunning plan is already working.

The first year of comparison shows that a whopping 24 companies have moved up at least one performance tier, showing how seriously they took the inaugural benchmark and feedback.

Other topline results:

  • Ten companies have moved upwards out of the lowest performance tier (tier 5)
  • The number of companies in the top performing tiers (tiers 1 and 2) has almost doubled
  • 43% percent of companies now acknowledge the link between financial wellbeing and mental health (up from 26% in 2022)
  • The overall average score for all companies in the benchmark has gone from 35% in 2022 to 40% in 2023
  • The highest score was 96%, the lowest score was 5%
  • Two companies moved up by 2 tiers over the year
  • 80% of companies now have formal systems in place for managing mental health
  • The number of companies that are making these commitments has gone from 44% to 57%

Full results can be found in the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark UK 100 Report 2023

Were there any areas of concern?

Only 37% of Chief Executives are really signalling their leadership commitment to mental health, which is only a slight increase on the number – 35% – from last year. As CCLA said at launch, this is one of the stats which they hope will show more significant improvement in next year’s benchmark report.

As James Corah, Head of Sustainability at CCLA, said at the report launch:

“The change that has already happened over the past year on embedding mental health into the workplace is remarkable. But there’s still a long way to go, and there’s lots of work still to be done.”

James Corah, Head of Sustainability at CCLA

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