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Holding an ESG mirror up to superfunds and financial services

By Margo Lydon
 — 1 minute read

ESG (environmental, social and governance) themes are increasingly front of mind for superfunds and the financial services sector. And rightfully so, as headlines near and far are dominated by net-zero, carbon emissions and the Paris Agreement.

Margo Lydon

As organisations put their investments through an ethical ringer to meet these ESG demands, many are overlooking a blaring social responsibility issue much closer to home.

SuperFriend is asking superfunds and the financial services industry to hold up a mirror to their own social and governance initiatives as an alarming number of Australians fall through the cracks of lacklustre mental health policies.

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It’s time for organisations to look inwards at their own practices to ensure they are being ESG-friendly. This means taking responsibility for employee wellbeing and mental health.

Alongside environmental issues, concerning mental health statistics have plagued Australia’s news cycle since the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions and work from home orders continue to challenge Australians’ mental health and wellbeing on all fronts, so workplaces need to help their employees.

Australian workers are under a huge amount of stress. Whether they’re working from home because of lockdowns, a frontline worker or out of work because of the pandemic, many employees and employers are doing it tough.

Superfunds and the financial services industry are able to live their ESG and investment values by bringing workplace mental health into the spotlight. In turn, solidifying workplace mental health as a focus area of the social component of ESG.

Workplaces are an ideal setting to help educate and improve people’s overall health and wellbeing, including their mental health. SuperFriend’s national workplace mental health research (Indicators of a Thriving Workplace) shows workplaces and leaders are investing in their people management, are more visible and championing their work teams – all of which are a step in the right direction. 

Pre-pandemic corporate Australia was a stickler for having a face-to-face working environment. Now, with so many people working remotely, lack of ‘connectedness’ has become a catalyst for poor mental health.

From a business perspective, this has many negative flow-on effects including lack of productivity, responsiveness and burn out. None of which are conducive to having a workforce who are motivated to making meaningful change on the ESG investing front.

SuperFriend has seen success from businesses who carve our time, activities and initiatives to help ‘connect’ – which is creating a sense of belonging and purpose for work. This is great for people’s overall wellbeing.

Of course, there is more to be done. Organisations need to reflect on their policies and practices, to ensure they align with the same high standards they hold their investments to. Mental health metrics may also be considered by businesses who – much like they would measure ESG targets – would like to quantify their efforts in this space.

The pandemic and the change in the way we work provides a terrific opportunity for businesses to really think differently and to take action to help their people be their best and thrive at work.

It is the ideal time for organisations planning the year ahead to rejuvenate internal social, governance priorities. For instance, mental health and wellbeing initiates for all employees and executives. Policies will also need to be updated to reflect the evolving working environment and social expectations – such as a move to hybrid or flexible arrangements – to ensure people are empowered across the business. 

In fact, at SuperFriend we have seen a growing demand for digital tools, training and resources, as well as virtual facilitated coaching and training to help businesses to create mentally healthy, sustainable workplaces.

We are also seeing the stigma of mental health issues breaking down in the corporate arena. A long overdue change which can continue to gain momentum if superfunds and financial services organisations grasp the opportunity to better themselves. 

Businesses have a lot to gain by creating a mentally fit workforce. Think increased productivity, reduced costs and increased profitability. Ultimately, organisations can attract better investments, employees and mitigate ESG risks. Investing in the safety and wellbeing of staff is equally important as investing in successful assets. It’s a true win-win!

The next step is to make workplace mental health an ESG expectation, rather than a nice to have. It is vital for superfund clients, members and the broader financial services industry to hold each other accountable – emphasising the importance on this front as we do for other ESG concerns.

Reporting on workplace mental health initiatives can be regulated, allowing superfunds and the organisations they invest in to track policies and initiates. Similar to the transparency requirements or bench marking around asset allocation and emissions targets on the environmental front.

Coronavirus has illustrated workplace mental health is an evolving issue. Monitoring, reassessing and developing innovate ways to tackle workplace mental health across different industries, companies and individuals is complex. So having the skills and resources to consistently improve is essential for ESG conscious organisations looking to make meaningful change.   

Margo Lydon, CEO, SuperFriend

 

Holding an ESG mirror up to superfunds and financial services
Margo Lydon
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