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Wellbeing

Poor wellbeing initiatives must be addressed

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

When excessive job demands, inflexibility, and workplace treatment are in need of shaking up, wellbeing initiatives might feel superficial, even disingenuous.

As more employers roll out workplace wellbeing initiatives, the results are often not what you’d expect – leading researchers to point to a disconnect between the initiatives and the realities of employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

A recent study conducted by the London School of Economics’ (LSE) The Inclusion Initiative found that workplace wellbeing initiatives are exceedingly unpopular. The findings might well give pause to the 40 per cent of employers expecting to increase their wellbeing budgets over the next year.

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Of the 100 workers interviewed – from across banking, finance, and professional services – not one was in favour of the initiatives.

So unpopular are the initiatives that the researchers, in the abstract of the report, suggested doing away with them altogether.

They said: “We propose that employers should not intervene with wellbeing but should instead focus more on improving psychological safety and reducing ill-being of employees that is directly attributable to their employment.”

The reasons behind the unpopularity of the initiatives are complex and varied; however, the researchers pointed to two main drawbacks in the way they are being rolled out. Let’s unpack the drawbacks and consider what the research might mean for business leaders.

1. Misaligned aims

Perhaps the most fundamental criticism levelled by the researchers against workplace wellbeing initiatives is this: that the initiatives tend to misunderstand what employees really want from their employers and what wellbeing really looks like.

“Organisations’ attempts to improve wellbeing at work are too narrowly focused and fail to account for the diverse and individualistic ways employees cultivate wellbeing,” said the LSE.

Organisational efforts to promote and protect employee wellbeing have traditionally been concerned with mitigating the harmful elements of direct work participation. These kinds of initiatives might include policies around workplace bullying, harassment, and management training.

Recently, said the LSE, organisations have extended the ambit of their wellbeing initiatives to target things well beyond these traditional areas to treat employee wellbeing more holistically. Consider, for example, cognitive behavioural interventions, exercise resources, and services to promote general life satisfaction.

When it comes to the latter, broader class of wellbeing initiatives, the LSE researchers warned against overstepping the role of an employer.

“Employers should not be investing in the wellbeing of employees in this way. Rather, they should focus on ensuring that their employees have a high level of psychological safety,” said the LSE.

“In addition, we argue that employers should focus mainly on reducing ill-being that is directly attributable to their employment.”

Specifically, the LSE found that wellbeing initiatives should focus instead on the following, direct kinds of wellbeing interventions:

• A lack of flexibility.
• Burnout.
• Inadequate working environments and stressful commuting.
• Conflictual relationships, including bullying, favouritism and injustice.
• A lack of autonomy.
• Opportunities for career progression.

Of all the aspects of wellbeing currently targeted through wellbeing initiatives, the article concluded that psychological safety is the only aspect that organisational policy should be targeting.

2. Ineffectiveness

Secondly, the wellbeing initiatives considered by the LSE are failing to achieve their aims. A “clear disconnect” exists between rising levels of ill-being among employees and the increasingly large sums invested in the initiatives.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, one-third of organisations raised their wellbeing budgets, while 40 per cent plan to increase them further in the coming year.

“Despite considerable sums of money invested into organisational wellbeing programmes, only a small benefit has been recognised, which in many cases is not cost-effective,” said LSE.

Though the research has its limitations – for instance, the relatively narrow pool of surveyed employees – the findings do raise serious questions for employers looking to boost the wellbeing of their workforce.

Instead of diluting the potency of organisational wellbeing initiatives by striving to address all dimensions of workplace wellbeing, the research advocates for a more targeted approach.

In conclusion, the article stated that the findings “endorse a work model that encourages employers to transition from a paternalistic approach to one based on trust, wherein employees are responsible for their personal wellbeing without compromising the productivity necessary to fulfil their roles”.

RELATED TERMS

Burnout

Employees experience burnout when their physical or emotional reserves are depleted. Usually, persistent tension or dissatisfaction causes this to happen. The workplace atmosphere might occasionally be the reason. Workplace stress, a lack of resources and support, and aggressive deadlines can all cause burnout.

Harassment

Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

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