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World WellBeing Week: Six Steps to Avoid ‘Wellbeing Washing’

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In the final Channel Eye feature celebrating World WellBeing Week, Jenny Winspear, COO of Anova, discusses how misguided workplace wellbeing initiatives can actually cause harm to a business, and outlines six steps to get the most out of a well-planned and measured programme.

Why are we still talking about workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing is essential for overall organisational success, leads to more sustainable productivity, and improves community health and happiness. The CIPD notes that ‘investing in employee wellbeing can lead to increased resilience, better employee engagement, reduced sickness absence and higher performance.’

But workplace wellbeing has been getting a bad name recently with the ‘wellbeing washing’ movement taking over, as companies are not taking the time to integrate wellbeing into their strategy, and are not using proper metrics (if at all any metrics) to demonstrate the impact of wellbeing efforts or to take a targeted approach.

Recent global research from Gallup reported…

In Gallup’s recent ‘State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report’, statistics highlighted that ‘global stress remained at a historic high — even as other negative emotions related to the COVID-19 pandemic subsided.’ They found that 77% of employees are still either ‘not engaged’ or are ‘actively disengaged’ at work.

As highlighted by Gallup, ‘by switching to proven, science-based management, organisations could change the course of the economy — and world history. [Workplace wellbeing] is that important.’

Workplace wellbeing initiatives not only contribute to the health, happiness, and productivity of employees but also foster a positive organisational culture, attract top talent, and deliver cost savings. By prioritising employee wellbeing, organisations can therefore contribute to broader economic growth and societal wellbeing.

The problem with wellbeing solutions

What are often well-intentioned solutions are sometimes doing more damage than good, as businesses are not taking the time to first understand what affects their employee’s wellbeing most in their specific workplace, and therefore are often missing systemic problems. This is damaging because:

  1. It won’t result in the return on investment promised to leaders (Deloitte says for every £1 invested in mental health you can see £5 return). This leads to lower long-term investment and discredits future wellbeing initiatives
  2. It reinforces the idea that wellbeing is ‘fluffy’ as there will be no evidence of the impact on the bottom-line
  3. Services often focus only on the physical, or only on the psychological, rather than taking a holistic view of wellbeing
  4. There is too much focus on the individual. Employees are tired of hearing ‘here is an app to make you more mindful’ or ‘take an hour out of your already busy day to attend this mental health seminar’.

Often, the ‘workplace wellbeing solution’ then causes the workforce to become even more frustrated with ‘wellbeing’ because it is another thing to add to their to-do list and isn’t actually addressing the demands of the job.

“At its worst, providing mental health benefits without looking at systemic issues can be like rubbing salt in a wound.” – James Routledge, Author of Mental Health at Work.

Six steps to avoid ‘wellbeing washing’:

  1. Measure: Begin by measuring employee wellbeing through a well-designed survey to identify areas of concern. Include psychological measures such as stress and resilience, not just employee engagement.
  2. Educate: Understand the business case for wellbeing and its ROI. Get leadership on board and educate them on the importance of wellbeing and what needs to be done.
  3. Get Everyone Else On-Board: Secure support from top leadership to ensure commitment and resources. Train managers and supervisors to support employee wellbeing and create a supportive culture.
  4. Implement: Form a Wellbeing Committee with representatives from different departments. Research and select solutions that address identified issues and align with objectives.
  5. Communicate: Develop a communication strategy using multiple channels to raise awareness and enthusiasm. Allocate necessary resources, including budget and technology.
  6. Analyse, Celebrate, Improve, Repeat: Monitor progress, adjust based on feedback and data. Regularly evaluate outcomes and celebrate successes. Sustain momentum by reassessing initiatives and maintaining a culture of wellbeing.

Key takeaway

If retaining your staff, improving wellbeing, and actually generating a ROI for wellbeing spend is the aim, avoiding wellbeing washing – you must put impactful metrics in place so that you can obtain the right resources and demonstrate effectiveness. The only way to do this is to listen to what your employees have to say, ask them what they think they need and what is impacting their wellbeing most, measure, then put in place solutions that address those risk factors.

If you have not taken this approach within your business, it likely explains why your workplace wellbeing solution is not working.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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