Four ways board members can champion mental health at workplaces

Best practices from progressive companies like Amex, Unilever, Accenture and Leadlease

The role of independent board members has become critical in promoting governance at progressive organisations, particularly as it relates to ESG. While the focus continues to be on Environment, Social Impact and Governance, board members can also play a significant role in promoting emotional well-being and mental health at the workplace.

This encompasses advocacy, oversight, championing and encouraging transparency around employee emotional health and wellbeing.

Advocating for mental health initiatives

Independent board members can use their position to advocate for the importance of mental health within the company. They can push for the development and implementation of mental health programs and policies that address employee well-being, such as employee assistance programs, mental health days, flexible working arrangements, and stress management training.

For e.g. American Express has been proactively prioritizing mental health initiatives in the workplace. They have developed the “Healthy Minds” program, which offers resources and support for employees to manage stress, improve emotional well-being, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. The program provides access to confidential counselling, wellness coaching, and other mental health resources for employees and their families.

Oversight and accountability

Independent board members can hold management accountable for mental health initiatives and outcomes by requesting regular reports on the progress and impact of such programs. This can include monitoring employee satisfaction, turnover rates, and productivity, as well as tracking the number of employees who access mental health support services. Their oversight can help ensure that mental health initiatives are effectively implemented and contribute to improved social ESG performance.

Leading organisations like Unilever have shown a strong commitment to mental health by setting clear targets and holding management accountable for progress. In 2020, the company announced an ambitious goal to provide mental health support to 100% of its employees by 2030. They are closely monitoring progress towards this target, measuring employee engagement, and regularly reporting on their mental health initiatives to the board and other stakeholders.

Championing diversity and inclusion

Mental health challenges can disproportionately affect certain groups, such as minority employees or individuals with disabilities. Independent board members can promote diversity and inclusion within the company, ensuring that mental health initiatives are inclusive and cater to the unique needs of different employee groups. By fostering an inclusive workplace culture, independent board members can contribute to improved social ESG metrics, such as diversity and equal opportunity.

To promote this goal, Accenture has taken steps to ensure mental health initiatives are inclusive for all employees. The company has established a dedicated mental health ally program, which includes over 4,000 trained mental health allies across 56 countries. These allies offer support, guidance, and resources to employees who may be struggling with mental health issues. Accenture has also made efforts to destigmatize mental health through internal campaigns and by sharing personal stories of employees living with mental health challenges.

Encouraging transparency and disclosure

Independent board members can promote transparency and disclosure around mental health initiatives and their impact on the company’s ESG performance. By encouraging the company to report on its mental health programs, employee well-being, and related ESG metrics, they can demonstrate the company’s commitment to social responsibility and attract socially conscious investors, customers, and employees.

Lendlease, an international property and infrastructure group, has been transparent in disclosing its mental health initiatives and progress. They have published information about their mental health strategy and related programs on their website, and they report on their mental health metrics in their annual sustainability report. By being transparent about its commitment to employee well-being, Lendlease demonstrates its dedication to social responsibility and attracts investors and customers who value companies with strong ESG performance

In summary, independent board members can play a vital role in promoting mental health at work by advocating for initiatives, ensuring oversight and accountability, championing diversity and inclusion, and encouraging transparency and disclosure. By doing so, they can positively impact a company’s ESG metrics, particularly in the social category, and contribute to long-term sustainability and success.