Castlefield Stock Story - Whitbread

By Eleanor Walley

Engaging with Whitbread on workplace mental health and wellbeing


As a signatory to the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark, we recently led an engagement with Whitbread, to discuss the company’s existing approach to workplace mental health and identify key recommendations for improvement. 

Poor mental health incurs significant human and economic costs. The aftermath of the pandemic and the recent cost-of-living crisis add an additional layer to the problem and lend a greater level of urgency to protecting the population’s wellbeing. Further, a growing body of evidence points to the clear business case for prioritizing workplace mental health to support a healthy and productive workforce.

Private sector employers in the UK lose £43-46 billion every year due to poor workplace mental health, through a combination of sickness absence, presenteeism, and costs associated with workforce turnover.[1]

Private sector employers in the UK lose £43-46 billion every year due to poor workplace mental health.

In recognition of this issue, Castlefield are proud signatories to the CCLA Mental Health Benchmark UK 100 [2], which assesses 100 of the largest UK-listed companies on their global approach to workplace mental health.

Businesses are evaluated and ranked on the strength of their published information, providing an objective assessment of a company’s management controls and its performance relative to peers. Following the publication of the 2023 benchmark and individual company assessments, we led an engagement with Whitbread, a leading hotel and restaurant group held in our Sustainable UK Opportunities Fund.

We began by questioning the company’s existing approach and philosophy towards wellbeing, and were joined by CCLA to guide Whitbread through the key recommendations to further improve its score.

Employee wellbeing is at the heart of Whitbread’s ability to serve guests, and the company adopts a holistic approach, centred around three pillars: physical, mental, and financial wellbeing.

Particularly in the context of high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, it is evident that mental health and financial health go hand in hand.

The company responded by increasing minimum pay rates (with the lowest hourly paid workers receiving a bigger increase) and making a one-off cost-of-living payment in November 2022.

A range of initiatives have been implemented across the company to increase awareness of workplace mental health, and wellbeing more generally

A range of initiatives have been implemented across the company to increase awareness of workplace mental health, and wellbeing more generally, as well as increasing access to specialist support services. There was a strong emphasis on training, noting that there are currently 121 Mental Health First Aiders across the company with further investment being made to increase these numbers. Whitbread highlighted the role of its employee assistance partner, Hospitality Action, a charity providing employees with around-the-clock access to free, anonymous, independent support and services, from individuals that are fully qualified to assist. Internal communication programmes like Wellbeing Wednesday, established during the pandemic, aim to increase employee access to support for every aspect of their wellbeing and creating a safe environment to discuss and share experiences.

After some reassurance that the benchmark is not attempting to measure how ‘happy’ a company’s workforce is – reducing the complexities of mental health to a string of KPIs would be unfeasible – but rather an assessment of the management and governance of mental health, Whitbread could see the value in strengthening its public disclosures. There is a real opportunity for Whitbread to be seen as a leader on this topic, however the company’s public disclosures must match up to what they are already doing – for example, describing how the mental health policy is implemented on a day-to-day basis and reporting on the uptake of workplace mental health initiatives.

Collaborative engagement is a highly effective tool, allowing us to amplify our voice and work with other investors to encourage companies to take effective action on a range of ESG issues – workplace mental health, climate reporting, modern slavery and greater diversity at board and executive committee levels, to name a few.



1.  Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment | Deloitte UK

2. Mental health | CCLA

Written by Eleanor Walley