Why corporate wellness programmes don't bring the desired outcome

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 13 Feb 2024

More than programmes, organisational interventions such as changes to scheduling, management practices and staff resources need to be looked into for employees' well-being. — AFP

FROM meditation sessions to stress management workshops and relaxation programmes, companies are sparing no effort to improve their employees' well-being. The problem is that these individual-level interventions might not be having the desired effect, according to a recent study of over 46,000 British workers.

One of the most pressing issues for bosses and managers is how to get employees back into the office while – if possible – ensuring they stay productive? The pandemic has completely reshaped the world of work, with workers becoming increasingly keen on the idea of ultra-flexibility, and a growing desire to prioritise well-being – sometimes to the detriment of performance. Both of these factors can impact the productivity of workers. Many studies have shown that productivity is increasingly correlated with happiness or well-being at work. Employers have not taken this information lightly, unleashing a whole arsenal of programmes designed to improve employees' mental health.

Few or no benefits

But what are these wellness programmes really worth? That's the question that a researcher from the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford University in the UK set out to answer.The study analysed the data and responses of 46,336 workers from 233 British organisations and companies offering such programmes. In all, no fewer than 90 wellness interventions of all kinds were examined, including mindfulness, resilience and stress management courses and programs, massage and relaxation workshops, sleep interventions, workload management training and volunteering.

Published in the Industrial Relations Journal, the study suggests that individual-level mental well-being interventions are not effective. In any case, the study findings do not demonstrate the benefits for employees."There's growing consensus that organisations have to change the workplace and not just the worker. This research investigates well-being interventions across hundreds of workplaces, supplementing trials that often take place in single organisations, and the lack of any benefit suggests we need more ambition when it comes to improving employee well-being. I hope these results can spur on further research and employer action," says study author, Dr William Fleming, quoted in a news release.

Could volunteering be more effective?

In detail, the study shows no difference in well-being between employees who took part in relaxation workshops, time management, coaching and other wellness programmes, and those who did not.The research notes, however, that volunteering is the only type of intervention that could prove effective for the well-being of those involved. Even so, the study points out that "the estimated effects are small," especially as these interventions are not usually part of programmes set up to improve well-being at work.

"I concur with reviewers of the field that organisational interventions, such as changes to scheduling, management practices, staff resources, performance review or job design (Fox et al., 2022), appear more beneficial for improving well-being," concludes the study author. – AFP Relaxnews

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