Do we need to rethink workforce wellbeing?

By Katrina Johnston, Director, Wellness Designs

The recent buzz on LinkedIn and in the media surrounding the University of Oxford’s research claiming “workplace wellbeing programs are a waste of time” might have left you questioning the value of your organisation’s efforts.

Let’s set the record straight.

Frankly, such headlines are misleading and damaging.

The research, involving 46,336 workers across 233 organizations, sheds light on the limitations of common individual-level and off-the-shelf mental wellbeing initiatives. It concluded resilience training, mindfulness, and wellbeing apps alone were not proving adequate responses to today’s job demands.

Having delivered award-winning workforce wellbeing solutions for over 25 years, we’re not surprised by these findings. In fact, we see this as an opportunity to further inform and evolve industry practice. It’s also essential to recognise the study’s limitations, including narrowed focus on mental wellbeing initiatives, cross-sectional ‘treatment effects’ on workers subjective wellbeing outcomes, and acknowledged selection biases.

The researcher concludes future research should evaluate individual-level approaches alongside organisational change.

The research findings align with our longstanding criticism of ‘Wellbeing Washing’—tokenistic efforts that fall short.

Fortunately our forward-thinking clients understand this.

The (very tiring) rhetoric and criticism of ‘yoga classes and fruit bowls’ in current commentary has to change as this doesn’t reflect contemporary practice.

They embrace a holistic, strategic, and integrated approach that address the root causes of employee health, safety and wellbeing, mitigate risk and elevate their organisation as a top employer.

In a global talent war, candidates seek employers genuinely committed to their people’s wellbeing. In fact, 93% of Australian workers rate it as important as pay.

Finally, wearing my public health hat, it’s also critical to reiterate the workplace’s role as a preventative health setting. Ultimately, it’s hard to be safe worker (both physically and psychologically) if you’re not a healthy worker. In our decades in the field, we’ve seen many lives saved through preventative workforce health interventions detecting issues like hypertension or a life-threatening melanoma.

It’s high time for proactive and collaborative measures.

Covid-19 taught us that creating healthy, safe, and high-performing workplaces requires collaborative, cross-functional efforts. An approach that joins the dots between occupational health and safety, human resources, DEI, ESG, work design, employee experience and health promotion. 

This is even more crucial in the current economic climate when budgets are tight and under heavy scrutiny.

Furthermore, new WHS regulations in Australia require an understanding of systems and factors contributing to psychosocial risk. This requires going beyond siloed efforts, identifying needs, and implementing targeted, measurable strategies at individual, team, and organisational levels.

At the end of the day, we all have a shared responsibility and vested interest in fostering a healthy organisation.

As the African Proverb states ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’

Ready to transform your organisation in 2024?

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