How to Not Be Fooled by Well-Being Washing?

17 March, 2023
A group of people meditating in front of a window.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “They can talk the talk but not walk the walk” which is the best way to describe the concept of well-being washing. It’s safe to say that corporate and employee well-being has gone from being “nice to have” to an “absolute must-have”in the workplace in the last couple of years. And from what we can see…it’s here to stay.

But what is well-being washing?

It is a concept that targets employees and is about making offered services by their employers seem more comprehensive or impactful than they actually are.

Simply, all that glitters is not always gold.

It’s important that as employees we recognize signs of well-being washing and make sure we don’t fall victim to this sin of superficiality. Fresh smoothies, stand-up desks, and yoga classes are not representative of holistic corporate and employee well-being.

We must remember that well-being is complex – it’s individual, messy, contextual, and ever-changing. Our employers have to dig deep and create environments that are positively impactful to each individual and their needs.

Sometimes you may need to take a minute and talk to your colleagues. Ask them how they feel about the initiatives set by your employer. Do they feel like it's hitting-home? Are they less stressed? Do they feel taken care of?

For any kind of well-being initiative to work, there must be employee consultation. How do you know what to give your employees if you have no idea what they want? The point is, you can’t.

With any well-being activity the aim should be to encourage employee involvement to a level that they understand that their employers are invested in their own wellness and growth while still building a stronger company.

Employers must take into consideration what is affecting their employees in the current moment. The cost of living crisis is having a major impact on the mental and even physical well-being of employees, how are your employers addressing this?

One and All, a school uniform maker based in Stockport, north-west England has collaborated with the charity Living Wage Foundation guaranteeing predictable shifts of at least 16 hours a week to all employees.

As we talked about many times, employee well-being has to be narrowed down to an individual level. Free gym memberships, unlimited coffee and a foosball table works for some but not all.

As employees, we need to take the initiative to understand what the true meaning of employee well-being actually is to us and what we expect from our employers. We have to also remember that any wellness scheme is done so with the best intentions but sometimes are not practical or useful for the intended audience.

Now, what’s the fix?

Let’s take a look at the top examples of employee well-being that workers increasingly expect organizations to help with:

Easy access to mental health resources:

Young workers in particular have made it known that their mental health is a non negotiable. It may seem like a no-brainer in our current climate but in 2021 a study by Ginger noted that while 70% of CEOs say they’re accepting of emotional and mental health issues in the workplace, only 35% of employees believe this is true.

Real support during financial stress:

As of January 2023 the annual rate of inflation in the UK was 129% for gas and 67% for electricity. Traditionally, employers have limited their involvement in the financial situation of their employees but this can no longer be so , 68% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z feel it’s an employer’s responsibility to help with financial wellness.

Flexible Working:

Being able to say when, where and how work gets done is a priority for employees and could be the reason they stay or leave their companies. Take a look at our article that will help you understand the top reasons people leave jobs and why employee well-being is more important than ever.

Working from home during the pandemic proved that we are just as if not more productive at home as in the office and giving up this flexibility is not in the cards for most people.

But let’s not forget, we have individual needs. Some of our colleagues may prefer to be in the office for socializing and collaboration and they should not be left behind. Your employers should provide facilities where all these different needs are met.

A message to employees….

Ensure your employer has an employee well-being strategy that is practical and can evolve!

Your employers must first understand the importance of well-being and be prepared to invest in it wholeheartedly. As an employee identify the KPIs that you can track, measure and report on within your team. With this in mind, challenge your KPIs if things aren’t going as they should and make your leaders aware that there is a potential problem at hand and question how they plan to address it.

Know what wellbeing initiatives are going to resonate with your team members.

Ensure your employer carries out an audit to understand what is impacting them right now and most importantly ascertaining how this differs by employee demographic, location, or business entity, and build a more targeted approach.

Having an array of different well-being initiatives may sound practical but could potentially have a diminishing impact if it doesn’t impact the individual needs of your employees.

Fully understand how to access your company well-being strategies.

A major flaw in most well-being strategies is the fact that most of them go unnoticed. After a new policy or benefit is sent out it quickly arrives at the bottom of our email inbox to then be forgotten…maybe forever.

As an employee, take note of each bulletin and spend time understanding what it means for you and your team. Share these insights with your colleagues and help them to understand what is there, what level of support it could provide, and more importantly, allow for easy access for them and their family.

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