More disclosure required on mental health

A report commissioned by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), Workplace mental health and safety: Corporate risks and opportunities for financials, mining and utilities companies in the S&P/ASX 200 aims to start a conversation among investors and companies to raise awareness of risks and opportunities related to workplace mental health.

While a sizeable proportion of ASX 200 financial, mining and utility companies have measures and commitments to implementing workplace initiatives such as wellbeing programs, flexible workplaces, training and development, barely a third of them publicly disclose research information on the effectiveness, or otherwise, of mental health and safety programs. This is in stark contrast to the very high disclosure rates for physical health and safety outcomes.

The report found miners working under the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) model are most at risk. Seventy nine per cent of metals and mining companies in the ASX 200 have FIFO workforces. The study found significant challenges associated with FIFO workforce mental health, however, only a third of these companies disclose details of initiatives to improve mental health through family-friendly rosters or other programs. Only a small proportion of companies disclose information on issues such as the use of employee assistance programs, employee satisfaction levels, staff turnover rates, training data, absenteeism and overtime worked.

Compared to the UK and Europe, the ASX 200 financials, mining and utilities fall behind their international peers in regard to physical and mental health, and safety disclosure. Only 58 per cent of financials companies practice moderate or good disclosure compared to 87 per cent of industry peers in the UK and 73 per cent respectively in Europe.

ACSI’s chief executive officer, Louise Davidson, said that companies need to both identify and explain the risks relevant to them and their industry. In addition, they should explain how they are managing them, so investors can effectively price and evaluate issues as part of their analysis of existing and potential investments.

“A lack of reliable and comparable disclosure of corporate performance, beyond that contained in traditional financial reporting, can undermine effective communication of these longer-term measures of business success by company boards to their owners,” she said. 

Professor Allan Fels, chair of the National Mental Health Commission also welcomed the report. “The ACSI research highlights the importance of companies measuring the success of their workplace mental health and wellbeing initiatives, to ensure good outcomes and to enable better investment planning,” he said.

The report outlines several suggested key actions for investors including:

  • Engaging the boards and senior executives of companies invested in to raise awareness of and improve disclosures on workplace mental health and safety.
  • Raising the issue of leadership support for de-stigmatisation of mental illness in conversations with the boards and senior executives of the companies in which they invest.
  • Requesting absenteeism rates, details on workforce satisfaction metrics and performance over time.

Read the Workplace mental health and safety: Corporate risks and opportunities for financials, mining and utilities companies in the S&P/ASX 200.