Workplace wellbeing programs don't work; here's what actually helps

Nobody needs to be reminded that you spend the majority of your waking life at work. Your job has the capacity to impact your mental health (and by extension, your physical health) as much as — if not more than — any other aspect of your world.

This puts your employer in a unique position. The company culture they adopt has the ability to directly influence your health.

In order to attract top talent, many firms have been engaging (intentionally or otherwise) in wellbeing washing, with well signposted positivity initiatives, glossy mindfulness portals and other ‘mental health buffet’ items.

Mention of mindfulness seminars, yoga time, sleep apps, online career coaching, resilience training, mental health awareness days and other superficial perks now make a regular appearance in the benefits sections of job listings.

The pandemic and associated Great Resignation brought worker welfare into even sharper focus so that by late 2020 corporate America had a new type of opening to advertise: the Chief Wellbeing Officer.

The trouble is, all of these “nice-to-haves” absolutely can, and do, co-exist with high rates of staff burnout, poor mental health and absenteeism.

High demand on workers, and an unspoken culture of overwork, lead to stress and poor mental health. No amount of wellness initiatives can mop up after poor workplace culture.

Of course, employee wellbeing is a moving target, and has traditionally been a slippery, difficult-to-measure metric. Now, however, the data is starting to flow in about how little the workplace wellbeing smorgasbord is actually doing for employee welfare.

According to a large UK study by William Fleming, PhD, a researcher at the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, even among firms with authentically good intentions, broad-spectrum workplace wellness initiatives simply don’t work.

46,336 workers in 233 organizations were surveyed and the results showed that nearly all interventions by companies fail to have a positive impact on worker wellbeing at all.

What works for workers

So if the token wellness menu isn’t working for workers, what does?

Last year, the Bentley Gallup Business in Society working group simply asked them, and its report is a must-read for conscientious hiring managers. TLDR? What workers want can be summed up in a single phrase: moderate our time spent working.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed believe that true employee wellbeing would come from offering a four-day, 40-hour workweek, limiting the amount of work employees are expected to perform outside of normal working hours, and offering mental health days.

In other words, people just want regular breaks.

And according to the University of Oxford’s survey, the one and only lifestyle perk that was identified as genuinely improving worker wellbeing was paid time off to volunteer in the community or for charity.

Finally, the workplace is increasingly populated by Gen Z workers, and that cohort is highly attuned to personal wellbeing needs and heavily invested in the definition of what makes a workplace psychologically safe.

Human-centered leadership, a culture in which oversharing is not frowned upon, and inviting upward, as well as lateral, criticism are among the things Gen Z workers say they need in order to stay sane.

So for any positive steps our firms make towards wellness measures that might actually work, Gen Z, we salute you.

Discover countless opportunities with employers who truly prioritize wellbeing on The Hill Jobs Board.

Corporate Controller, Kindbody, New York

Kindbody, the tech-driven fertility care company, is seeking a Corporate Controller to manage its financial reporting and operations. You’d be leading a team of six in this remote, full-time role, and ideally you’d bring a Bachelor’s degree in accounting/finance, more than five years’ of management experience, and some healthcare industry knowledge. The salary range is $185,000 to $225,000. See more here.

Global Pricing Director, Honeywell, Atlanta

Honeywell, the engineering and tech conglomerate, is now hiring a Global Pricing Director for its Atlanta base. You will step in to drive pricing strategies and initiatives that will enhance financial success. Deploying tools to analyze market trends and lead price optimization will be part of your function, and you will collaborate with teams across the business. You should bring at least eight years’ experience in pricing in a result-driven firm, and along with your strong financial modeling skills, a Master’s degree. Expertise in the latest price-management tool would be a bonus. Apply directly for this top-level role now.

Legislative & Member Advocacy Specialist, National Education Association, Washington

As a Legislative and Member Advocacy Specialist at the NEA, you’ll take the lead on coordinating online advocacy and managing web content to support the mission. Engaging members in federal policy issues is part of the role, as is frictionless collaboration internally with colleagues and externally, with lobbyists. A Bachelor’s degree, five years’ of program analysis experience, and proficiency in cyber advocacy are core skills the NEA is seeking, as well as federal legislative advocacy and project management. You should also be a whizz at interpersonal communications. Some travel is called for in this role, which you can read more about here.

Find your ideal job among countless roles at companies that value wellbeing on The Hill Jobs Board

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