Snap poll shows 50% employers guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’

The term ‘worker wellbeing’ appears to be trending these days as more employers switch on to the fact their workforce is their greatest asset, especially in the current workers’ jobs market.

But another term has been coined to shame employers that want to appear mindful of their workers’ wellbeing yet fail to provide them with any real benefits – ‘wellbeing washing’.

Looking for that ‘quick fix’ to keep their people onside (and hopefully attract new talent), these employers are increasingly being called out for offering free fruit, gym memberships, yoga classes and the like with one hand while pushing staff towards unsustainable workloads, long hours and burnout with the other.

It’s a phenomenon highlighted recently by IOSH Research Programme Lead Dr Karen Michell, in her blog ‘Want to really do right by your people?’

Web poll

So IOSH decided to test just how widespread ‘wellbeing washing’ has become by asking visitors to our website a few questions on the matter, starting with “Do you think your employer is guilty of wellbeing washing?”

This snap online poll, which attracted more than 400 responses from nearly 60 countries over three working days, confirmed that wellbeing washing really is a thing, with more than half (51%) of respondents pointing an accusing finger at their employer. Those who found their employer guilty as charged referred to wide-ranging examples of staff ‘benefits’ they didn’t want or need, including:

  • Online ‘wellbeing services’
  • Employment Assistance Programmes that focus on out-of-hours issues but don’t deal with work or office-related matters
  • Discounts on holidays (which are still too expensive)
  • Wellbeing walks (but with no time to go on them)
  • Fruit and ice cream
  • Shopping discounts (but having to pay for staff parking)
  • Mental health First Aid (described as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise that can sometimes see untrained volunteers do more harm than good).

Those employers providing benefits their employees won’t thank them for might be interested to see what benefits workers say they’re not getting but would actually welcome. These include:

  • Work risk assessments for stress
  • Access to a wider variety of healthy lifestyle classes, not just gym membership or yoga
  • More support for women on menopausal issues
  • Better mental health support
  • Better management
  • Flexible working
  • A more responsive attitude to worker surveys.

In her blog, Dr Michell advises employers they won’t get away with adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to worker wellbeing, while simply renaming a rest area as ‘The Chill Zone’ is a definite ‘no-no’: “Helping to keep your people contented while also attracting new talent will be vital to your operation – in fact, your whole future will depend on it,” she writes.

Workers aren’t stupid.