Workplace wellness programs have gained significant traction recently, as employers seek to prioritize the mental well-being of their employees. However, a closer look reveals a stark contrast between the massive investments made and the actual impact on employees' health and job satisfaction. How do companies take better care of their employees to promote and foster genuine well-being at work? Let’s dive in.
Assessing the Impact of Common Well-being Initiatives
Well-being initiatives, ranging from mindfulness workshops to counseling and stress-management training, have become commonplace in the corporate realm. In 2021, it’s estimated that, globally, companies spent $61.2 billion on workplace wellness interventions. This figure is projected to soar to $94.6 billion by 2026, according to a report from Markets and Markets. However, a study from Oxford University, led by William Fleming, challenges the notion that increased spending correlates with improved employee well-being.
“Increasingly, employers have been offering various strategies, practices, and programs to improve well-being and mental health,” says Fleming. “The basic aim of them is to change people’s psychological capacities and coping mechanisms,” he says. Yet, his findings and other similar studies reveal that these programs have little benefit.
The Oxford survey of 46,000 workers revealed that more than half of employers with formal well-being strategies witnessed little improvement in employees' mental health. Similarly, a US study involving 33,000 employees demonstrated minimal effects on physical health, healthy behaviors, absenteeism, job tenure, or performance.
“Most workplaces are not temples of wellness,” writes André Spicer, a professor of organizational behavior at the Bayes Business School at City, University of London and author of the book, Business Bullshit. “In some cases, they can be quite the opposite. What’s more, many of the interventions employers use routinely to supposedly improve employee well-being appear to make no difference — or in some cases, can even make things worse.”
Effective Strategies to Relieve Workplace Stressors
Most of these wellness programs fail to address the root causes of workplace stress, which is pivotal in crafting effective well-being strategies. Job insecurity and shift work are said to contribute to 120,000 deaths per year in the United States. The problem won’t go away on its own, so how can employers help?
Fleming advocates for structural changes. Better pay, secure contracts, flexibility for not just families, but caregivers and individuals as well, plus opportunities to learn new skills and hands-on mentoring are key components of employee wellness. Quality frontline management emerges as a crucial factor, too, with the day-to-day managers leading the charge in company culture. Streamlining bureaucratic procedures, shortening meetings, optimizing staff rotas, and fostering psychological safety all play critical roles in improving the manager-to-employee relationship.
In the pursuit of employee well-being, it's evident that the current trajectory of workplace wellness programs is falling short of expectations. Instead of investing in ineffective initiatives, leaders should concentrate on removing stressors such as complicated systems, poorly trained managers, and interventions lacking efficacy. A holistic approach focused on structural improvements and genuine support emerges as the key to fostering a truly healthy workplace.