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New Reporting Framework Highlights Employee Health and Well-Being

By Amy Brown
Employee Health

The responsibilities of businesses to look after their workforce are under the spotlight due to the COVID-19 crisis. Companies are feeling intense pressure to show that employee health and safe workplaces are high priorities as they make plans to reopen for business. The new Culture of Health for Business Framework (COH4B) is a way for companies to transparently report on those practices — and where they need to step up in light of a global pandemic.

Recognized by Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards, the Culture of Health for Business Framework was developed in 2019 by a group of leading companies, nonprofits and academics with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the leading global sustainability reporting organization, was among that group and has endorsed the framework. It has mapped existing GRI Standards to the framework to help companies report on their progress on employee health and well-being.

This pandemic has brought employee health to the forefront

The culture of employee health is a prominent topic in C-suites and board rooms today, as companies grapple with how to reassure employees, investors and others that they can guarantee a safe workplace. So far, many companies are falling short. Paid sick leave is just one example, with COVID-19 bringing that debate to the forefront, as TriplePundit’s Megan Amrich has reported.

In the U.S., almost 1 in 4 workers do not receive sick pay. As news reports, including this recent article in the New York Times, indicate, companies that do not provide paid sick leave are endangering their workers and customers. This is particularly significant in the age of pandemics. Affordable and accessible health insurance is another critical need for the nearly 30 million uninsured Americans, most of whom are low-income family members.

Low wages, meanwhile, are associated with poor health outcomes for workers and their families, including limiting access insurance and healthcare services. Often it is these low-income households that are employed in the roles deemed essential during the pandemic , including grocery stores, warehouses and manufacturing. Increasingly these workers are voicing concern that workplace health and safety measures are inadequate.

Companies need a holistic approach to health

That’s where the Culture of Health for Business Framework comes in, says Piya Baptista, program implementation manager for the Global Reporting Initiative. She argues that during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses cannot take a back seat when it comes to employee health, and it’s not enough to cherry-pick easy solutions in isolation. “Rather it has to be a forward-thinking, holistic approach to health which is multi-faceted and spans multiple departments including occupational health and safety (OHS), human resources, sustainability, legal and marketing,” Baptista told TriplePundit.

She notes that while many companies have done at least some reporting on performance around areas such as OHS, that is often legally mandated. As she explained to 3p:

“What’s been lacking so far has been this deeper and broader data-driven narrative around health and well-being. There are a broad set of actions that companies can take to impact health and well-being. That’s not just OHS or a wellness program, but aspects such as wages, discrimination, jobs, security, product marketing, environmental impacts and many of the other practices that are highlighted in the Culture of Health for Business Framework. Disparate issues related to health might get reported, but we haven't seen that cohesive story. That is an opportunity for growth for companies.”

A framework that highlights 16 best business practices for health

For companies prepared to take a deep dive into their health policies and practices, the supply chain should not be overlooked, Baptista adds. “For many industries, the impacts on health and well-being are going to be in the supply chain, in their manufacturing facilities. It’s one thing to manage your own workforce, but what is your company really doing to understand what's happening in the supply chain?”

GRI has a number of existing standards that can help companies understand and disclose their impacts on health and well-being on a broad set of stakeholders. The Culture of Health for Business Framework (COH4B) can help companies identify a set of business practices that impact health and well-being and start disclosing more or improve disclosure by using the GRI Standards with COH4B.

Currently there's no existing tool linked to the GRI Standards that helps companies to take such a broad and forward-thinking view to understand their impacts on health and well-being,” Baptista said. She points out that it is similar to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in helping companies understand their impacts on climate or the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in thinking about big development problems. “There are other health initiatives and frameworks out there, but this is a pioneering, holistic framework on the role of business in impacting the health and well-being of its stakeholders, linked to a curated set of business practices,” she said.

The 16 evidence-based business practices cut across a wide range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, to help businesses build and promote employee health and manage impacts on population health through their operations, advocacy, marketing, and philanthropy.  

If human capital is an asset, now there’s a directive to prove it

Baptista expects that companies will be revisiting materiality assessments in light of COVID-19 and that the framework can be a useful addition to that process as well as stakeholder engagement. “The pandemic has brought a renewed and urgent focus on the role companies play in supporting population health. Recognizing health and well-being as an ESG issue, and increasing and enhancing disclosure, is a crucial step and a leadership opportunity for corporations to recognize their responsibilities and take action as a result,” she told us.

The Virtual GRI Reporters’ Summit North America on June 16 will feature a session on the Culture of Health For Business Framework. Also in June, GRI will release additional resources to support use of the framework, followed by a global public webinar in August. Baptista encouraged companies to contact her if they want to learn more at  grinorthamerica@globalreporting.org.

She adds: “The framework encourages companies to pose the question: do they truly believe that human capital is an asset and one that they should build up? And what role do they have to play in impacting health of communities? Do their actions match their words? How can they build resilience and develop a future fit strategy to prepare for all kinds of scenarios? We will see how things pan out, but I'm hopeful that this framework will start to change and broaden the conversation around health and well-being.”

Image credit: Daria Nepriakhina/Unsplash

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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