27 September 2023

Is your workplace guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’?

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Lizzie Thomson* talks to a workplace wellbeing consultant who says many organisations are pretending to care about their employees’ mental health, but really do little that helps.

From mental health days to virtual counselling, there are so many ways organisations appear to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.

Digging into the specifics a little more, it’s sometimes a different story entirely.

A snap United Kingdom poll earlier this year found more than half of employers are guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’.

In other words, appearing to care about mental health but failing to provide any real or tangible benefits — in a similar way to greenwashing.

This can take various forms.

It might be a mental health seminar is hosted — during a lunch break.

Or workplace wellness programs are offered — but not giving employees any time to use them due to ever-growing workloads.

The mental health pawn is played by toxic workplaces to make it seem like action is happening, when nothing really is.

Workplace wellbeing consultant and the founder of the Anti-Burnout Club, Bex Spiller says it’s a way for organisations to look good without dealing with many of the issues that are causing poor workplace wellbeing in the first place.

“Announcing to the world that you provide stand-up desks and lunchtime yoga classes, but not lessening the overall stress and pressure on employees in the first place, is wellbeing washing,” Ms Spiller said.

“Another example is a company celebrating things like World Mental Health Day but not actually looking after their employees’ mental health.”

She said this could be by not providing adequate time off for mental health conditions, unrealistic workloads creating more stress, or fostering a culture of presenteeism where employees are worried about taking time off to recover.

“With the current cost of living crisis, there’s a lot to be stressed about right now, but throw in a demanding employer imposing high pressure and a heavy workload, it’s only natural for employees to be feeling burnt out,” Ms Spiller said.

“Wellbeing washing is dangerous because it doesn’t actually improve employee wellbeing. In fact, it can do quite the opposite.”

She said when those fickle promises and vague pledges come to light, workers will quickly see through their employers.

“When a company is wellbeing washing, it can cause employees to disengage and lose trust. They feel under-valued and not listened to,” Ms Spiller said.

“When this happens, it can lead to lower productivity, and higher staff sickness and turnover rates, which can then impact a company’s performance.”

She said workers who believe their employer is wellbeing washing should be open and honest about what it is they really need.

Ms Spiller suggested using something like a Wellness Action Plan to set out what affects mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, including any particular triggers such as a high workload.

“It’s good to use this tool to get the conversation going with HR or management about how you and others need better support at work,” Ms Spiller said.

“Know that it won’t always be an overnight fix, but if you find that you’re being ignored, then it may be time to look for somewhere with a more supportive culture.”

She said there were plenty of workplaces who were more supportive and who walked the walk instead of just talking the talk.

*Lizzie Thomson is the Assistant Lifestyle Editor at Metro UK.

This article first appeared on the Metro.co.uk website.

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