CIPD calls for greater transparency on workforce reporting

A new study says companies could do more in their annual reports to deliver transparency on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, and calls for a framework on baseline workforce reporting.

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The professional body for HR and people development’s analysis of FTSE 100 annual reports finds that while workforce reporting has improved in the past two years, the quantity and quality of disclosures still varies significantly and remains very poor in places.

'Workforce matters even more important to understand'

How do companies report on their ‘most important asset’? analysed the quality of workforce disclosures in the 2021 annual reports of FTSE 100 companies against key themes including:
  • workforce cost and composition
  • employee relations and wellbeing
  • reward
  • voice
  • skills, capabilities and recruitment
  • response to Covid-19.
It found that most of the FTSE 100 covered these key themes in their narrative to some extent, but the quality of reporting was generally low, and the use of data to evidence comments was ad-hoc. “The pandemic and rapidly changing world of work mean that workforce matters have become even more important to understand,” commented Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD.“We need organisations to show how they are responding to demands for more responsible, productive and sustainable businesses, and how they are investing in the workforces and cultures they need to thrive in a more uncertain and changeable future.”
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More transparency on people practices

In response to the findings, the CIPD along with the workplace pension and saving representative PLSA, and pension scheme Railpen, which supported the research, are urging employers to provide greater transparency over how they recruit, invest in and manage their workforce.The push for clarity on people issues comes as the government announced a pilot to improve full salary band disclosure in job advertisements.The three organisations are also calling on key parties - such as the Financial Reporting Council, investors and representative business groups - to come together to agree a baseline framework for workforce reporting. This would help improve the consistency and quality of company disclosures on key people issues that are central to efforts to create more inclusive and productive organisational cultures and working practices.  The report outlines four key areas that the workforce reporting framework should cover:
  1. workforce composition
  2. employee relations and wellbeing
  3. reward and recognition
  4. skills and capabilities.
Collectively, these four areas are material to all organisations in terms of their culture, their role in value creation and in identifying risks associated with people and the workforce.

This type of framework could also inform the workforce element of the new reporting standard being created by the International Sustainability Standards Board, which the UK Government supports as part of the push to achieve a net-zero economy.“There is already strong momentum behind wider corporate reporting across environmental, social and governance (ESG) but it’s clear more needs to be done on the ‘S’ part of ESG,” continued Peter Cheese. “Now is the time for more transparency and action, but this requires more guidance and clearer frameworks for reporting. “The creation of an accepted baseline framework for workforce reporting would help organisations report how they manage and invest in their people in a clear and consistent way and improve reporting practices over time. In turn, this would improve key outcomes such as staff development and retention, employee inclusion and wellbeing, and enhance organisational performance.”

Key findings

Against mounting pressure to make race pay gap reporting mandatory for the UK’s largest companies, the analysis of FTSE 100 annual reports that while 93% of companies provide evidence of investment in inclusion and diversity, only one in five (22%) FTSE 100 employers reported the ethnic breakdown of their workforce, up from just 10% in 2019. Almost all companies (97%) mention investment in skills or training, but only a few provided concrete evidence of this. Only 11% provided data on their internal hire rates, an important indicator of how well companies train and develop staff.  The study also identifies a lack of reporting on pay and reward beyond gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting. Only 15% of employers discussed their pension policy in the people section of their annual report, despite pensions being a key part of the employment offering. On wellbeing, only 13% of annual reports discussed mental wellbeing in relation to health and safety or risk assessments. This suggests that mental health and wellbeing is still not treated as seriously as physical wellbeing, and its link to stress, absenteeism, productivity, as well as the importance of supportive workplace cultures, is not widely understood.  

'Re-opened company-investor dialogue'

Caroline Escott, Senior Investment Manager, Railpen, said: “COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the important role of an engaged, motivated and fulfilled workforce to sustainable corporate success and re-opened the company-investor dialogue on workforce treatment in the ‘new normal’.“In our engagements with companies, we have welcomed executives’ increased willingness to discuss the challenges they have faced in supporting their workers during the pandemic. Investors also have a responsibility to speak proactively and honestly to firms about material workforce issues and their expectations around decision-useful disclosures.“We believe our report offers a vital contribution to the debate, helping companies, investors and policymakers understand what useful workforce reporting looks like and ultimately bringing us closer to ensuring the fair workforce treatment that will support long-term success.” 

Joe Dabrowski, Deputy Director Policy, PLSA, said: “You often hear companies say that ‘people are our greatest assets’ and yet, in many cases, the reality fails to match the well-meaning words. The PLSA is a firm believer that high-quality workforce reporting is key to better outcomes for companies, investors and workers. “These are not new issues and improvement has been slow, but events over the last two years have clearly highlighted that social factors matter. As such, it remains vital that investors and regulatory bodies continue to push companies to provide better transparency in these areas, which are core to how their overall approach to ESG will be judged.

“The PLSA supports better quality reporting from companies on workforce issues through a number of initiatives and this new report – How do companies report on their ‘most important asset’? – that we’ve produced alongside our partners at the CIPD and Railpen highlights several key themes that need addressing. With this – and our soon-to-be published Stewardship and Voting Guidelines 2022 – we must take this conversation forward into a post-pandemic world.”

If you have a people-centred approach to driving success across your organisation and understand the importance of wellbeing in all its forms for talent to flourish, then why not enter the Think Global People and Relocate Awards. There are ten categories to choose from. Join us on 9 June for the results and the Future of Work Festival.

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