Are employee wellbeing initiatives providing value?

Improvements in core working conditions more effective: study

Are employee wellbeing initiatives providing value?

According to Dr. William J. Fleming, a researcher at the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, employee wellbeing initiatives may provide less value compared to improvements in core working conditions such as changes to scheduling, management practices, staff resources, performance review, or job design. Dr. Fleming's research suggests that companies should consider allocating money and resources to address the fundamental aspects of the work environment before spending on foosball tables, kegs, and beanbag chairs. 

On Jan. 10, 2024, the Industrial Relations Journal published an article by Dr. Fleming, who analyzed survey responses from 46,336 workers at companies that offered employee wellbeing initiatives. The research focused on practices that promote generally positive psychological functioning and prevent deterioration of individual-level workers' wellbeing - such as mindfulness, resilience and stress management training, time management, wellbeing apps, and volunteering opportunities.

Dr. Fleming's research asked: do participants in individual-level mental wellbeing interventions at work have higher wellbeing? He also asked whether participants reported more positive perspectives on their psychosocial work environments. 

Wellbeing initiatives

The results are intriguing. Dr. Fleming found that there were no differences in mental wellbeing between participants and non-participants for the following wellbeing initiatives: relaxation practices, time management, coaching, financial wellbeing programmes, wellbeing apps, online coaching, sleep apps and sleep events. Interestingly, Dr. Fleming found that volunteering was the only type of initiative to suggest benefits for workers' wellbeing. 

Dr. Fleming's study suggests challenging the long-held assumption that companies providing many and varied wellbeing initiatives have a healthier workforce. In this writer's opinion, Dr. Fleming's findings are a strong reminder that employers should focus on improving the basics of the employment relationship - job structure, workflow, compensation packages, work schedules, management practices, and value alignment, before investing in wellbeing initiatives that simply, and temporarily, take attention away from the fundamental aspects of the employment relationship. 

Trevor Thomas is co-founder and a partner at Ascent Employment Law in Vancouver.

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