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Has wellbeing washing reached the end of its cycle?

Is wellbeing washing only adding to employee exhaustion and burnout? One study suggests there is a gap between organisations’ intentions and the results they achieve.

The evolving media landscape and 24-hour news agenda, means the PR industry in particular, is prey to long working hours and ever tightening deadlines. As an industry characterised by its resilience, optimism, and ability to put a positive spin on the day-to-day, we now face the fact that just over half (51%) of working professionals in the communications industry are struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Whilst businesses offering yoga classes, wellness apps, puppy petting or guest speakers might be seen as well meaning, or actively tackling wellness head on, this ‘wellness blanket’ approach doesn’t address the root of mental wellbeing. Achieving positive wellbeing at work is incredibly important and it’s time for the industry to step away from the ‘wellbeing spin’ and instead look at how mental health in the workplace is being managed and supported. We need to ask ourselves the question, is wellbeing washing only contributing to industry exhaustion and burnout, and if so, what do we intend to do about it?

Wellness initiatives on their own don’t generate positive wellness

A study by McKinsey Health Institute found that employers rate the mental health and wellbeing of their employees 22% more favourably than the employees themselves. This is an obvious disconnect between actions over experience. Jen Fisher and Colleen Bordeaux, who lead the Workforce Experience offering for Deloitte Consulting LLP, also contend that wellbeing initiatives often put a burden of action on individual employees by providing “a constellation of difficult-to-access perks, when organisations themselves need to take a hard look at the structure of work.”

At our agency we believe that genuine wellbeing in the workplace means helping remove the burden from the individual. To do that, you need to understand what the burden is and importantly, that it differs from person-to-person and from team-to-team. Fostering wellbeing in the workplace can be complex and requires dedicated time and commitment - it goes well beyond happiness initiatives. Balanced wellbeing should include building a culture of mutual respect, decency at the core and true transparency. This approach demonstrates to employees that they matter, they’re important and that we are here for them.

Learning and understanding make us better equipped

Feeling supported, understanding expectations, and being heard is fundamental to better wellbeing. Weekly team stand-ups, individual line manager catch-ups and synced in-office days that encourage open conversations, embracing both work and personal life pressures are key.

Our working worlds have changed and hybrid working tailored to the different and diverse needs of employees, also goes a long way in supporting positive wellbeing. Times are different and many people have pressures outside of work, so understanding those lead to how to get the best from your employees, which only drives trust and performance.

HR teams/individuals that help support and train managers to understand what positive wellbeing is and means, and when and how it might be challenged, also makes a huge impact at work, as do robust policies that include all the above initiatives in the mix.

Training programmes and learning support for all staff no matter their level, ensures employees feel equipped with the right skills to do their jobs - this is fundamental for confidence building and positivity. Our KWT-U training programme offers bi-weekly courses that help build skillsets across the broad arena of PR and comms. Additional to those skills, we offer comprehensive training in soft skills including active listening, empathy, diversity and inclusion and self-awareness to name a few.

Learning is so important, as is being an approachable business that cares about its people and places wellness firmly on its ongoing agenda.

Wellness washing will no longer wash

Wellness doesn’t get fixed with yoga or apps, it is a constant investment in people. In a post Pandemic world where the workplace is undergoing some of its most fundamental changes, it’s imperative for employers to understand what wellbeing means to staff. By acknowledging the complexity of wellbeing, the importance of the individual and the role of the organisation, we move beyond wellbeing washing to genuine structured support for our people. True wellbeing can only be measured by a positive, thriving work environment, dedicated to the talented individuals that make up the organisation and its future.

Written by Sarah Moloney, global EVP and UK managing director of PR agency KWT Global

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