What is wellness washing and how can it be avoided?

Aligning your internal and external workplace culture is key for brandishing a healthy office environment. Mia Barnes explains how to avoid wellness washing.

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Wellness washing describes the disparity between an organisation’s internal and external workplace culture. The company appears to have the best wellness programs for its employees, but this image is an illusion created to attract candidates and improve public sentiment. The opposite occurs as workers are exhausted and lose work-life balance. The false sense of well-being support leads to unhappiness, stress and burnout.

Examples of wellness washing

Wellness or well-being washing has made the rounds as various workplace issues moved to the surface. Your company could be guilty of it (or other forms of false advertising like it) without you being aware. Here are some situations that define wellness washing in the workplace:

  • Offering free gym memberships, therapy sessions and meditation classes but failing to address heavy workloads and extended work hours, prohibiting employees from taking advantage of the benefits.
  • Celebrating Mental Health Week despite employees not receiving enough company assistance.
  • Announcing wellness programs through social media or websites, but no appropriate well-being mechanism is in place.

A new study shows over 35% of businesses are guilty of wellness washing. They boast about their mental health programs to the public but don’t support workers internally.

Recognising wellness washing

It’s easy to spot the issue within a small organisation, as leaders are more involved in workplace processes. Here are some indications:

No feasible programme

Some companies brag about their well-being initiatives but provide no evidence of a working or ongoing employee program, strategy or platform. Workers are left wondering whether it exists or not. Only 51% of organisations take a strategic approach to wellness, which means a firm could have these programs but isn’t implementing them.

Overlooking real employee issues

Employee issues universally lead to burnout. Research found that 88% of UK employees have experienced it in the last two years. Moreover, one-third claimed to struggle from physical and mental exhaustion due to the pressures associated with their jobs. Workers can’t access mental health support if their circumstances — such as working 12 hours a day — hinder them from having life outside of work.

Investing in minor benefits

More than one in every three UK employees are unhappy in their careers. It’s partly because the wellness investment is misplaced. Instead of superficial perks like free coffee or meals, they prefer to have meaningful programs that address heavy workloads, poor working conditions and toxic workplace culture.

Why businesses should avoid it

The modern workplace is moving toward an employee-centred route. Focusing on your subordinates’ immediate and long-term health needs means a step toward business success.

Wellness programs attract the best talent, but as high as 19% of organisations don’t do anything to improve employee wellness. You must have an established wellness program that offers tangible benefits to appeal to new hires and retain employees.

5 ways to avoid or resolve wellness washing

Here are five ways business owners can avoid this problem.

1. Face the problem

Business owners involved in workplace operations can easily detect employee issues. With the problem in plain sight, there’s only one thing to do — resolve it. When workers can’t use the gym membership because they always stay in the office late, consider reducing their workload.

2. Change things internally

According to a report by Globalization Partners, 66% of employees reduce their quality of work when unhappy with their jobs. Several things contribute to employee dissatisfaction — one is unmet expectations. The positive culture promoted to the public should reflect the workplace situation. If you offer flexible work, it must be accessible to everyone. Collaborate with HR, diversity, equity and inclusion, and wellness experts to better implement changes.

3. Measure employee well-being

Roughly 14% of employees experience mental health problems in the workplace. However, this figure often isn’t reflected in the company’s data, as only 28% measure the success of their wellness programs.
Get a baseline for improvement by getting the numbers. Use a survey or evaluation form to get your employees’ thoughts. Ask questions about how satisfied they are in their role or how likely they are to stay with your company. Gathering these data will bring up loopholes and opportunities to reform and sustain your wellness program.

4. Listen to your employees

Employee feedback is a priceless asset in rebuilding workplace culture. However, 36% of employees are unaware if their organisation has a feedback program and 37% don’t know they have an open-door policy.

Every company should have a channel that gives their employees a voice. Provide a platform to air their compliments and criticisms about the organisation. Their comments directly tell whether the existing programs are working and suggest what you need to change to cultivate a better workplace.

5. Individualize wellness programmes

Personalisation is the secret recipe for an effective wellness initiative. An employee may need transit options but not a fitness class. A smoking cessation program only applies to smokers — how about nonsmokers?

About 87% of companies offer employee well-being services, but only 50% have a strategy to make them work. Customising your wellness program can increase its probability of success. Segment employees based on their needs and preferences to tailor appealing mental health campaigns.

Supporting wellness programmes through continued efforts

Wellness programs don’t operate on a plug-and-play function wherein you can set it and wait for the result. It requires implementation strategy and consistent innovation to make them a success. As your employees’ needs and preferences change, your programs must follow suit to stay relevant.

Mia Barnes - Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine

Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher with over 3 years of experience in the field. With a specialization in workplace wellness, financial well-being, human factors, and ergonomics, her articles aim to educate and empower readers, providing them with practical tips and insights to enhance their overall well-being in various aspects of their lives. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Body+Mind magazine.

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