Wellbeing washing is when a company is at pains to emphasise the care they take over employee wellbeing, for the benefit of public appearances, without following through on this supposed value.
For example, a business may run a workshop focusing on stress management, sharing the day on social media and publicly announcing its success.
However, what you’ll actually find is a business where stress is a part of day-to-day life, from increasingly ambitious targets to overflowing workloads.
This creates a disconnect between employees and employers:
- A recent study by Claro found 70% of workplaces celebrated mental health awareness days, but only 30% had mental health support that was deemed good or outstanding by their employees.
- Meanwhile, a Bupa survey found 58% of business leaders believed they provided enough mental health support, but only 21% of employees agreed.
- And according to the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), only 13% of employees in the UK believe that their company’s wellness programmes meet their needs.
Wellbeing washing often comes from failure by senior leadership to walk the talk, meaning there is a lack of follow-through and authenticity when wellbeing programmes are adopted.
They are treated like box-ticking exercises rather than something which is part of the business’ overarching strategy.
How to avoid wellbeing washing
Employers need to think about employee wellbeing holistically, not just supporting employees who are already experiencing health concerns.
Wellbeing tools should be engaging and meet employees where they are at – helping them to be healthier, happier and more productive through the development of daily healthy habits, from eating healthily and exercising, to practising mindfulness or fostering social connections.
A good example of this is company challenges for walking, running and cycling, which have been successfully implemented by several UK businesses over the past couple of years.
This impacts both employee physical and mental health, bringing a sense of competition to encourage more movement, and contributing to a happier and healthier workforce.
The NHS highlights that adults should aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week in order to reduce by up to 30% the chances of developing major illnesses such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Regular exercise is also proven to reduce the risks of developing anxiety and depressive symptoms, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
An impactful wellbeing programme comes with investing in evidence-based solutions that target lifestyle risk factors, with clinical oversight in implemented solutions. This ranges from the quality of the content to the effectiveness of a programme in encouraging behavioural change.
For example, a case study conducted at Dialogue found 80% of its wellness programme users achieved more than 150 minutes of activity weekly, and otherwise sedentary users saw an increase of 75% in their daily activity.
Beyond implementing a wellbeing programme
Companies need to measure, understand and act upon collaborative information on a regular basis to nurture a healthy workplace.
A lack of effort to maximise mental health and wellbeing services can also contribute to wellbeing washing, and can be countered through inclusion into the induction processes, introducing mandatory manager training programmes and making resources highly visible and easily accessible.
Leaders’ ambassadorship can also have a huge impact on the success of wellbeing programmes, for example by talking about the benefits they have personally gained by using wellbeing tools and other workplace wellbeing policies.
Above all, it is important that organisations foster a culture of workplace wellbeing.
This is done through authentic and consistent action, policies and resources which demonstrate a strong and practical commitment to supporting good physical and mental health, in addition to investing in impactful and evidence-based wellbeing solutions.