Why Most Companies Miss the Mark on Workplace Wellbeing

Why Most Companies Miss the Mark on Workplace Wellbeing

What better week to talk about the impact of company culture on wellbeing – than World Wellbeing Week. 

You may be quick to think that I’m writing this to jump on the trend, but these ponderings have been in my back pocket since I attended a wellbeing conference at the end of May. The Watercooler at Olympia London if you want to bookmark it. 

Using that event as a fresh example, I want to share why our approach to workplace wellbeing can go so far wrong it feels like we’ve missed the point entirely. 

The conference was, in my humble opinion, a perfect representation of how we can make assumptions, and use data for our own agenda to push wellbeing initiatives that cost the business money but leave no real impact on the very people it was meant to help in the first place. 

There’s a high cost, but little uptake from the people who it should benefit the most. 

In this feature, I want to highlight where companies can miss the mark with wellbeing, and the common misconceptions we have in our organisations that lead most well-meaning companies down the road to wellbeing inertia. 

Mental health is still hot

At The Watercooler, there were various live talks, panel discussions and roundtables that you could attendThe hottest topic on every speaker’s lips was mental health. 

Of course, this is a positive. We want to make mental health as natural a conversation as talking about your gym workout or sharing your pain of having a cold. When we can openly share that we’re anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed with our colleagues, that’s when we know we’ve got a culture that accepts mental health.  

However, the resounding data and insight from the experts in the room, was that although the data is out there that people want more support for their mental health at work, such as mental health counselling – companies are still not investing in it. 

From where I stand there is a much deeper problem at play. Many businesses seem oblivious that the way they operate, and the very environment they have created influences the mental wellbeing of their team. They forget everything they do impacts wellbeing. 

We get companies who provide a menu of mental health support but do little in the way of auditing their own behaviours and actions. Saying one thing, but doing another. 

And let’s not forget the companies who outright have such toxic workplaces ignore the fact that the work-related stress they are causing is leading their team to burnout and even depression. 

We must realise work has a role to play in mental health. It’s not always outside circumstances or previous traumas, but the very places we work that can be the catalyst to poor mental health. 

These companies may have wellbeing benefits and packages, but the resounding message about wellbeing is, “we’re keeping you at work and pretending we care about you by offering X,Y,Z.” 

No doubt across the following week we’ll see free meditation sessions and yoga classes popping up with businesses shouting about how ‘wellbeing aware’ they are in their company culture. But the reality is far removed from the polished LinkedIn posts. 

Mental health isn’t just something you do, or a box to tick on the HR agenda. It’s the culture you have created that builds a space of psychological safety where your team feel they can speak out. 

Money talks

If there’s one topic that did have me scoffing over my tea, it was money. 

I’m so pleased that money, and finance as a topic, are finally being brought to the forefront when it comes to wellbeing. After all, data from the Money & Mental Health Institute, reveals that 46% of depression is linked to financial stress. 

But passing on financial apps and money management to your team is like giving the cart, without the horses. 

What good is money management if you don’t even offer the living wage, let alone have pay transparency in your company culture? 

Companies are quick to close down conversations about pay. Fear ridden that it will cause conflict and anarchy. Yet, patronisingly will quite happily offer up money management courses or budgeting apps. 

Admittedly talking about money openly in your culture is a journey in and of itself. People have to learn far more about their own mindsets towards money, have to learn about the needs and wants of others in their team, as well as understand the numbers of the company. 

Instead, it’s far easier for companies to offer out a perk and disregard all responsibility for the way they approach pay. 

Where’s the wellbeing line between individual and company?

Rows and rows of stands at The Watercooler were compiled of every variation of wellbeing you could think of. From mindfulness booths, at-home gyms, and fertility apps, to financial education.

It was a fully holistic approach to wellbeing. That I applaud.

However, while it’s impressive to represent every possible area of life that can influence our wellbeing, I question where the responsibility line begins and ends between individual wellbeing and company support.

By no means is this a clear answer. Again it’s simply pondering.

My answer, as always is to ask your team and have this as an open discussion.

What do your team feel they need to support their wellbeing?

What truly helps them to feel their best when working?

There will be people who would love the full package of wellbeing benefits. There will be others who feel that it’s an intrusion of personal privacy when their company begin to have a say in their health.

I hate to pull out the elephant in the room, but let’s take covid-19 vaccinations as an example.

Some companies outright demanded their employees to have the vaccination.

Regardless of your personal opinion. Vaccination should be a personal choice one free from the risk of losing your career.

For the first time in our workplace history, we’ve seen businesses meddling with personal health only to fit their own agenda.

What is true workplace wellbeing?

As a starter, before you even begin to contemplate the smorgasbord of wellbeing benefits you can dish out to your team, you have to check in on your culture.

Do you even have the foundations of a culture that respects people’s wellbeing?

Here are a few questions to consider;

How would you describe your current culture?

How do people react to someone who is stressed? Are they compassionate or impatient?

Do you praise overwork?

Can people speak out if they feel there has been a mistake?

Are people micromanaged, or do they have autonomy?

In my opinion, true workplace wellbeing is an environment that doesn’t cost people their health or even their lives. It’s a culture where people are free to work how they want to work to take care of their own health and wellbeing. A place where they feel they can be fully themselves without fear of bullying or harassment. A space where there is no emotional blackmail for putting our own health first.

Among all the trends and fads, we seem to have forgotten about what workplace wellbeing really means.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.