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Wellbeing Washing Uncovered: The Impacts, Examples, and Solutions

8 min read
Published on 13 December, 2023

In the vibrant landscape of corporate wellness, a new term has emerged— wellbeing washing. Research has indicated that when it comes to wellbeing most companies are not practicing what they preach. While organizations quickly showcase their commitment to employee well-being, not all efforts are sincere.

The stigma surrounding mental health has slowly but surely been lifted in recent years. Google searches for mental health and wellbeing reached their highest level in 2021.

The trend is catching on with organizations. In fact, they want to make us aware of how much they care about our well-being at work.

As a result, they participate in mental health awareness days. Their social media accounts are filled with smiling photos of their employees. Some even offer their employees a bean bag and ping-pong table to relax.

You would think that's all there is to it.

Sadly, that is not true.

This isn’t a well-being strategy. It’s wellbeing washing.

In this blog post, we will delve into the nuances of well-being washing, exploring its impacts, motivations, and, most importantly, how organizations can move from mere gestures to genuine actions.

What Is Well-being Washing?

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“Don’t ever presume wellbeing is ‘done’ – it’s a journey.” – Dr Kate Daley, Head of Psychology at Unmind

Well-being washing refers to the superficial gestures organizations make to appear committed to employee wellness without substantial actions.

In simple terms, it is when a company is more focused on appearing to care about well-being than taking care of their employees for real. It's the instance of making promising statements but not doing any follow-up on those with tangible incentives that make a difference.

38% of employees (mostly Gen Z and millennials) think their organization washes its hands of wellbeing.

Examples of Well-being Washing

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One of the major questions you might be asking yourself is, “How do I know what initiatives or steps are well-being washing and not actual strategies?”

The following are a few examples of communication or activity types that can be wellness-washing if the organization does not offer any proper well-being support to its employees.

  • Your company might say on paper or social media posts that they offer quiet rooms, but when you actually want to use it, they often frown upon it.

  • Another classic example of well-being washing would be the hypocrisy most organizations have when preaching about work-life balance. But again, in reality, you would often see that the overworked employees are always appreciated and not the other way around.

  • In many companies, mental health initiatives are publicly celebrated without robust employee well-being programs.

  • Running a mental health awareness day campaign on social media without having a long-term commitment to improving mental health internally is another classic example of well-being washing.

  • Many companies offer free yoga classes while employees work for long hours. Offering corporate yoga sessions without any flexible working benefits has become a trend.

  • If your employees are exhausted from working more than 8 hours, they can hardly benefit from or take advantage of these programs. These measures need to be more genuine and more performative.

  • Inviting guest industry speakers and celebrities to give presentations, then post about these publicly, for example, on social media.

Another survey respondent reported that while 71 percent of organizations participated in mental health awareness initiatives, only 36 percent offered ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ mental health benefits to their staff.

Suggested Read: Top 10 Benefits Of An Employee Wellness Program

Impact Of Wellbeing Washing On Employees

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Well-being washing has profound implications on both employees and the broader organization. The well-being of employees must be taken into serious consideration since failure to do so will only make things worse.

Committing to providing workplace wellbeing without genuine efforts can have detrimental effects on both employees and organizations. Let's delve into the shadows and explore the negative consequences that lurk beneath the surface.

1. For Employees

  • It can lead to disengagement and distrust when employees perceive the well-being initiatives as mere facades.

  • Again, it makes employees less motivated, less productive, and more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

  • Empty gestures can create cynicism and mental stress among employees. They can further lead to a decline in mental health and impact work performance as well.

  • Employees can feel undervalued, impacting their morale and sense of belonging within the organization.

A recent report published by Claro Wellbeing specifically assessed the extent and nature of wellbeing washing in the UK. Researchers found that almost one in four employees (38 percent) believed their employer engaged in well-being washing.

2. For Organizations

  • It can negatively impact an organization's brand reputation. Social media and dynamic employee feedback have made it easy to expose well-being washing in today's world.

  • Further, a damaged reputation can hinder recruitment efforts and repel potential clients or partners.

  • Wellbeing washing can result in high turnover rates, causing an increase in recruitment costs and disrupting organizational stability.

  • Misleading claims about well-being initiatives can have legal repercussions. Organizations may face legal challenges and damage to their ethical standing.

The McKinsey Health Institute discovered a huge gap between leaders' perceptions of employee well-being and employee perceptions of their well-being. Employers often overlook unhappy workers.

How To Avoid Well-Being Washing? Implementing Wellbeing Initiatives In 5 Steps

The importance of employee well-being has become increasingly apparent in recent years across various industries. Today, it means fostering productivity and creating a positive working environment. Yet, recent research has indicated that some companies are not practicing what they preach regarding wellbeing.

To avoid inadvertently engaging in well-being washing, here are five steps you can implement at the workplace -

1. Measure wellbeing.

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You can't manage what you can't measure. It is important to measure the right thing, the outcomes that influence your employees' needs, and their experiences at work. You can't deliver effective well-being strategies without meaningful insights.

According to a study, almost 67% of HR decision-makers reported measuring well-being as a priority for their organization in 2023.

Suggested Read: 8 Simple Ways To Improve Employee Morale and Wellbeing

2. Take Action Based On What You Hear.

The next step in avoiding well-being washing is listening to your employees and asking what they need. Do they need more support from managers, mental health support, or better employee assistance programs?

Take your time to gather and understand the data gathered from leaders and employees. It is an important step in closing the gap between organizations’ perceptions of their people’s well-being and reality.

Consider proposing solutions based on the feedback and then getting feedback on your solutions before implementing them.

Suggested Read: 50 Mental health survey questions for employees at the workplace

3. Ensure A Decent Mental Health Wellbeing Program And Policy.

Well-being washing only occurs when your organization doesn’t have a robust mental well-being program. The best way to avoid it is to create an adequate mental wellness program or ensure your program is up to scratch.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 trillion dollars is lost to mental ill-health globally each year. And you cannot just avoid well-being washing by workplaces celebrating mental health awareness days.

Here are a few things you need to consider when implementing mental health policies -

  • Create effective policies and guidelines by working with team leaders to get a more dynamic spectrum view. Your policies should include guidelines regarding how and when to raise mental health concerns.

  • If your budget is flexible, provide training. Mental health first aiders can assist you with training regarding mental health wellbeing at work. Providing mental health awareness, support, and resources can also be part of your training for managers and employees.

Suggested Read: 5 Perks Of Incorporating Mental Health First Aid Kit At Work

4. Set Your Expectations Correctly With Your Management.

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To avoid miscommunications, it is important to communicate the potential benefits of investing in employees' mental health and well-being with the management.

Communicating wellbeing initiatives' goals, progress, and outcomes is important.

Remember that transparency builds trust. Employees should be informed about the organization's commitment and the impact of the programs. Try to inform your employees about the limitations and advantages of your wellness programs to avoid premature announcements and confusion.

5. Invest In A Culture Of Change And Authentic Wellbeing.

The concept of well-being isn't just about perks or fancy incentives you can offer without tailoring them to your employees' needs. A free gym membership or health insurance cannot be an employee wellness program. Corporate wellness is a holistic concept, and one of the most common misconceptions is that HR is solely responsible for it.

It lies way beyond the hands of HR, and everyone plays a part in creating an authentic culture of wellness at work, especially executives and leaders. You can demonstrate the authenticity and benefits of your tailored wellness programs by leading by example.

Again, another approach is to 'walk the talk'; it means doing what you preach and display on social media. In other words, you should take care of your wellbeing, participate in company wellbeing initiatives, and keep your employees on their daily to-do list.

Remember, there is no shortcut to creating a culture of wellbeing. Building the right one will take time, money, and effort. However, the good news is that it is worth the investment.

Suggested Read: 8 Ways To Create And Nurture A Culture Of Wellness In The Workplace

Summing It Up

While creating an authentic culture of wellbeing requires time, effort, and investment, the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges. But by adopting these steps, organizations can move beyond performative gestures, ensuring that their commitment to employee wellbeing is genuine and impactful.

Thus, in doing so, they contribute to a workplace where employees thrive, fostering a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce.

This article is written by Neha Yasmin who is a content marketer at Vantage Circle. A selenophile with a penchant for discovering great meals and drinks. Is a self-proclaimed binge racer with a knack for cooking in her spare time. For queries, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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