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Is there room for tokens in the new world of wellbeing?

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

The last few years have been great for workplace wellbeing. An overhaul in regulations and a general progression of attitudes towards wellness have created safer workplaces for employees.

According to Dr Patrick Aouad, co-founder and chief executive of CU Health, the pandemic was a major player in facilitating this change.

“[Wellbeing has] evolved dramatically over the last five years. It was not really a thing that was thought about much a decade ago. It was all about compliance, regulation, occupational safety, removing hazards, often physical hazards,” Dr Aouad said.

“As time went on, psychological hazards started to emerge as an important thing, and that was recognised. And more recently, legislation has changed, which really enshrines the need for businesses to protect the psychological safety of their employees by having things in place. But really, the pandemic drove a lot of this. [It] revealed that people are re-evaluating what really matters. And there are different ways of working these days that didn’t exist before.”

Dr Aouad noted that organisations that aim to provide care need to go beyond tokenistic gestures, as they can sometimes miss the mark of what wellbeing should be.

“Businesses and companies more than ever need to think about how to provide care to their employees to demonstrate that they care and also to provide them with some value that goes beyond tokens,” he explained.

“The pandemic demonstrated that people do have a predisposition to mental health problems, as we all do when we’re isolated, when it’s difficult to connect with colleagues, and when there [are] lots of competing pressures in the modern world.”

Dr Aouad continued: “You’ve got to think about the whole person, their social wellbeing, their financial wellbeing, their physical and mental wellbeing, and aim it at their stage in phase of life, personalise that wellbeing. Because what’s good for a 55-year-old person might not be good for a 22-year-old person, it depends on the gender, it depends on the priorities and goals.”

While tokens can often fall short, there is a place for them if done correctly. While they should never be treated as a replacement for real support and benefits, tokens can help employees feel valued.

Dr Aouad commented: “Some [tokens] are great, but often there’s not much thought behind, is this really going to improve the value that an organisation or employer provides for employees?”

“If you’re going to provide a perk or a benefit for an employee, then it really ought to be something that they value, that saves them time, saves them money, and also improves their sense of self-contentment and wellbeing sustainably. That’s a good perk to me because the whole point of a perk or any offering is to make people feel happy, more loyal to the company.”

He added: “The time’s come to look at expenses and think, which ones are worth spending money on? Which one do the employees value the most from their perspective? And secondly, which are going to deliver a return on investment to the business in a sustainable way, so it becomes a win-win?”

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with Patrick Aouad on 9 May is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.



Benefits include any additional incentives that encourage working a little bit more to obtain outcomes, foster a feeling of teamwork, or increase satisfaction at work. Small incentives may have a big impact on motivation. The advantages build on financial rewards to promote your business as a desirable employer.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.