Unmasking "Wellbeing Washing"

Written by Sandra Mikhail, Founder and Director of Nutrition A-Z

Coming across the term "wellbeing washing" for the first time struck a chord with me. Since the launch of our corporate wellbeing services almost 7 years ago, there has been a positive surge across various industries with companies increasingly showcasing their commitment to employee wellness. But is this commitment genuine, or is there an ulterior motive at play?

Enter the concept of "wellbeing washing," a term I believe describes the superficial appearance of caring for employee wellbeing without actually following through.

The Facade of Care

Wellbeing washing is akin to greenwashing, where companies appear eco-friendly without making substantial changes to their practices. Similarly, it involves projecting an image of caring for employee wellbeing, often through carefully curated initiatives and public relations campaigns, while failing to implement meaningful policies that truly support employees' physical, mental, and emotional health. This can include token gestures like free snacks and periodic wellness events that mask deeper systemic issues. My workshops were part of those periodic events and unfortunately when it came to implementing long-term initiatives, budget talks would take centre stage and programs such as those offered by my business would no longer be on the table.

If you've been working in the field of corporate health, you've definitely become acquainted with all the red flags:

  • Superficial Initiatives: Companies engaged in wellbeing washing often focus on surface-level perks and events that provide temporary excitement but lack a lasting impact on employees' overall wellbeing.
  • Lack of Integration: Wellbeing washing tends to treat employee wellbeing as a standalone program rather than an integral part of the company's culture and operations.
  • Ignoring Structural Issues: Organisations guilty of wellbeing washing tend to ignore systemic problems such as overwork, lack of work-life balance, and inadequate benefits.
  • Failure to Address Mental Health: If a company's initiatives don't address mental health support, it's a clear indicator that the commitment to employee wellbeing might be superficial.

My private practice has seen numerous consequences, of what I now realise is "wellbeing washing" which include burnout, depression and a poor functioning immune system. Implications of "wellbeing washing" also include distrust and disengagement. When employees realise they are being subjected to superficial gestures, trust in leadership erodes, leading to disengagement and decreased morale. Retention issues are bound to arise where employees are more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere if they feel their wellbeing is not genuinely valued.

Confronting Wellbeing Washing as a Company

Having worked with companies of various sizes and in different industries, the ones that simply did more than just "tick a box" had the following in common: transparency, a "holistic" approach to corporate wellbeing, integration of long-term strategies and employee involvement. Here's a simple breakdown:

Transparency: Companies should be open about their commitment to employee wellbeing and the steps they are taking to address it.

Holistic Approach: A genuine focus on wellbeing requires addressing structural issues, promoting work-life balance, and providing mental health resources.

Long-Term Strategies: Companies need to implement sustainable wellbeing programs rather than short-lived initiatives. Our 4-month program "Empower to Thrive" may come across as another short-term initiative but has set the scene for long-lasting, sustainable changes amongst employees and leadership.

Employee Involvement: Involve employees in shaping wellbeing initiatives, ensuring that their needs and concerns are heard and addressed.

I find that corporate wellbeing washing is a disheartening reality in today's corporate world. While many organisations genuinely care about their employees' wellbeing, others use it as a marketing tool without making meaningful changes.

If you want to learn more about how we can help you empower your team to thrive, then reach out to us to get you started.
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