More than a third of businesses are 'wellbeing washing', study shows

Research finds that only a third of employees deem workplace mental health support good enough, despite employers publicly supporting awareness days and events

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More than a third (35 per cent) of businesses are wellbeing washing – the practice of firms supporting mental health publicly but not supporting the workforce internally – according to employees, a new study has revealed.

The research, conducted by Claro Wellbeing, found seven in 10 (71 per cent) workplaces celebrated mental health awareness days, but only a third (36 per cent) of organisations’ mental health support was deemed good or outstanding by their employees.

The survey of 1,000 employees, found that more than a third (35 per cent) of businesses recognised mental health on social media and through events, but just 30 per cent saw their employer as “considerate” of their mental health. 

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Emma Gage, wellbeing campaign manager at Business in the Community, said that while employers marking mental health awareness days is positive, “pressure and workload” are still common stressors in the workplace and will likely worsen in the economic climate.

“With the cost-of-living crisis, we know that many employees may be experiencing increased pressure, stress, and anxiety as we approach the winter months,” said Gage, adding that  employers need to ensure their “wellbeing policies and ways of working support all employees through the next few months and beyond”.

The research found that under half (49 per cent) offered employees access to a helpline, while 44 per cent offered counselling and almost two-fifths (39 per cent) had mental health first aiders. 

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Dannielle Haig, principal business psychologist at DH Consulting, suggested that mental health awareness and support will come from the top down. “Show your team that it’s okay to look after your wellbeing and encourage others as well,” Haig said, adding that one of the best ways to reduce overall anxiety and burnout at work is to “communicate, share the wins and the losses, and build a team community”.

However, Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, emphasised that over the last decade, businesses have recognised the importance of supporting employee mental health. “This recognition was accelerated by Covid and there is much to be celebrated, but the sad reality remains that more needs to be done,” said Blake.

For this reason, he advised that companies “adopt a comprehensive, whole organisation approach which recognises that wellbeing and performance fuel one another”.

“Strategic leadership and visible commitment to wellbeing, an inclusive culture where people feel they belong, line managers who can have good quality conversations, and mental health first aiders are all part of the mix,” he added.

The study follows a recent analysis by MHR which found three in five (62 per cent) employees believed their employer did not care about their mental wellbeing, with more than half (55 per cent) feeling pressured to hide their mental health concerns at work.

When considering the most effective help, a third (34 per cent) of respondents said financial support from their employer would be better for their wellbeing than flexible working. 

Andrew Filev, chief executive and founder of Wrike, previously told People Management it was “critical that organisations set out detailed support strategies”, adding that they must “make mental health a priority” by promoting work-life balance and ensuring employee workloads were manageable.