MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Do Wellbeing Initiatives Make Employees Feel Worse?

Wellbeing initiatives could be doing more harm than good.
A female office worker is on her mobile phone while holding a pink yoga mat.

According to the CIPD, employee wellbeing continues to rise up the corporate agenda. In its report, “Health and Wellbeing 2021”, 75% of respondents said they believed that their senior leaders had employee wellbeing on their agenda. This was up from 61% the previous year.

Focusing On Wellbeing Can Make Things Worse

However, it seems that putting staff through wellbeing training only worsens stress levels, according to the University of Cambridge.

Digital apps and mindfulness classes appear to just add more pressure onto the staff. This is because it gives them something else to think about on top of other mounting responsibilities. Stress management classes, in particular, were found to lead to more stress.

The findings come from an analysis of evidence from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (26,471 employees working for 128 UK employers). They compared the levels of wellbeing of participants in various wellbeing initiatives with those who had not.

The only staff who benefited were those who took part in volunteering or charity work.

Too convenient?

One of the researchers, William Fleming highlights that: “These types of interventions appear to be a convenient option for employers concerned with mental health, including the government, which as an employer implements various wellbeing programmes throughout the civil service and NHS.

“Merely offering short-term programmes or classes is not satisfactory for solving long-standing problems of worker wellbeing.”

Instead, employers need to be thinking more in terms of the working conditions and the role of management. This means the responsibility at the top, not just the workforce.

Fleming adds that it should not be the role of employees to persistently address their own mental health. It is that of management to comprehensively consider and address the structures of work that cause harm through stress, trauma and uncertainty.

A tick box list saying "employee wellbeing" with three faces next to the boxes.

Focusing on performance could hurt employee wellbeing.

Improving Wellbeing Isn’t A Short-Term Fix

This can be the problem with one-off classes or digital tools. They focus attention on problems, make people self-conscious and focus on themselves and their state of mind. This will sometimes mean more problems, not less.

EAPA UK knows from our many years of experience that employees are looking for an outlet for their built-up pressures. An independent source of support. They don’t want more attention on their performance and the need to somehow “perfect” themselves.

That means providing them with access to professional support and a route to solutions. Short-term fixes are not the right way to go.

About the author

Eugene Farrell, Chair, EAPA UK, is a well-known and highly respected expert in Employee Assistance services and mental health at work management.

He has over 30 years’ experience in the UK healthcare arena and is a member of the British Psychological Society. He’s worked in a variety of roles in both the NHS and private sectors and for the past 20 years, has specialised in the development and provision of mental health, counselling and wellbeing support services in the corporate environment, including the development of integrated healthcare, psychological treatment pathways, absence management, workplace counselling, EAP, crisis and trauma support, wellbeing and occupational health services.

Eugene works closely with mental health providers, charities and the government and has a very keen interest in the use of technology in mental health and its future development.