Does your workplace pretend to care about mental health? Here’s how to tackle ‘wellbeing washing’

Posted: 28th March 2023

From mental health days to virtual counselling, there are so many ways companies ‘appear’ to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.

But digging into the specifics a little more, it’s sometimes a different story entirely.

A snap poll earlier this year found more than half of employers are guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’ (AKA, appearing to care about mental health but failing to provide any real or tangible benefits) – in a similar way to greenwashing.

And this can take various forms.

It might be a mental health seminar hosted… during a lunch break. Or offering workplace wellness programs… but not giving employees any time to use them due to ever-growing workloads.

The ‘mental health’ pawn is played by toxic workplaces to make it seem like action is happening, when nothing really is.

Bex Spiller, a workplace wellbeing consultant and the founder of The Anti-Burnout Club, explains: ‘Effectively, it’s a way for organisations to look good from the outside, without dealing with many of the issues going on that are causing poor workplace wellbeing in the first place.

‘Announcing to the world that you provide stand-up desks and lunchtime yoga classes, but not lessening the overall stress and pressure on employees in the first place, is wellbeing washing.’

Ringing any bells?

Bex says another example is a company celebrating things like World Mental Health Day but not actually looking after their employees’ mental health.

She says: ‘This could be by not providing adequate time off for mental health conditions, unrealistic workloads creating more stress, or fostering a culture of presenteeism where employees are worried about taking time off to recover.’

Also, employees simply not knowing where wellbeing initiatives can be found, or how to access them.

With the current cost of living crisis, there’s a lot to be stressed about right now. But throw in a demanding employer imposing high pressure and a heavy workload, it’s only natural for employees to be feeling burnt out.

‘Wellbeing washing is dangerous because it doesn’t actually improve employee wellbeing – in fact, it can do quite the opposite,’ adds Bex.

‘Employees feeling stressed, overwhelmed and under pressure may end up burning out and suffering from long-term physical and mental health conditions.’

Also when these fickle promises and vague pledges come to light, workers are likely to feel gaslit – and will see-through their employers.

Bex says: ‘When a company is wellbeing washing, it can cause employees to disengage and lose trust.

‘We see this time and time again where employees feel undervalued and not listened to because an organisation is just paying lip service to better workplace wellbeing. When this happens, it can lead to lower productivity, and higher staff sickness and turnover rates, which can then impact a company’s bottom line.

According to Deloitte, investing in employee mental health sees an average return of £5 for every £1 spent.’

So what can you actually do if you think this is the case where you work?

Bex says: ‘If you suspect your employer is wellbeing washing then I’d really recommend being open and honest about what it is that you need from them for better support.’

Bex says it’s good to use this tool to get the conversation going with HR or management about how you and others need better support at work.

She adds: ‘Know that it won’t always be an overnight fix, but if you find that you’re being ignored then it may be time to look for somewhere with a more supportive company culture.’

Also, know when enough is enough.

Bex continues: ‘Changing jobs is often a last resort, but no job is worth your health.

‘If management are just wellbeing washing and you find it’s having an impact on your health, then it may be time to move on. There are plenty of workplaces who are more supportive and who walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.’

Source: How to tackle ‘wellbeing washing’ at work | Metro News

Categories: Mental Health News