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Three ways to avoid ‘wellbeing washing’ in the workplace

‘Wellbeing washing’ has been getting an increasing focus in the business world. But is it a fair description of what’s really happening in mental health and wellbeing in workplaces?

Certainly, evidence from the Society of Occupational Medicine suggests in some businesses it is. Only around one third of employees  recognised their company’s mental health support as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

Too many organisations stick with wellbeing solutions that are inadequate for today’s workforce. At least 25% of people experience mental health issues each year, but on average only 2% of employees use counselling provided by employee assistance programmes (EAPs), so a lot of people simply aren’t accessing the workplace mental health support they need.

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There are also more than 20 types of proven therapies a person might need, yet many businesses only provide counselling or basic cognitive behavioural therapy. While it’s positive organisations are training mental health first aiders and many do vital work, they’re not trained professionals.

However, ‘wellbeing washing’ implies businesses are deliberately trying to provide the wrong support, and this is not our experience. Rather the challenge is workplace mental health issues are still often unseen or only seen too late when people are in full crisis. Despite progress, people keep issues to themselves even in psychologically safe workplaces. HR leaders are dealing with challenges on multiple fronts, so need simple solutions to better pinpoint and address workplace mental health issues. Here are three ways to help achieve this.


1. Make support accessible anytime, anywhere

Think about our lives today with a choice of services, instantly accessible on any device whenever needed. Yet it’s hard to find the right mental health support at work in hidden EAPs or insurers’ gated membership sites. It often requires call lines, form filling and hurdles when all you want is connection to the right advice or therapist straight away.

We must remove these barriers, enabled by the technologies now available. Integrate mental health support where your people are every day, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Automate the clinical triage process to get people to the right therapist quickly – the My Therapy Assistant RightMatch service enables this with 98% accuracy in five minutes. Give people access to on-demand mental health resources and courses for any issue, not only one-off wellbeing events.


2. Empower line managers

Line managers are vital for addressing mental wellbeing at the right level in organisations. While HR is the owner of the wellbeing strategy, line managers can support or undermine wellbeing initiatives in a single conversation. Yet mental health training for line managers is too ad hoc; people forget 90% of what they learn in training within a week.

Make sure you’re continuously supporting line managers with scenario-based learning and tools for the team situations they face. Provide managers with the professional back-up, for advice themselves and to signpost employees to at the appropriate time. For example, Google managers have access to online mental health learning to help them recognise the signs that team members may need additional support, and how to refer them.


3. Prevention is better than cure

Workplace mental health support is too reactive rather than preventative. HR leaders are unsure where to focus preventative support given the wide range of mental health issues in the workplace. Simply tracking wellbeing levels through employee engagement surveys isn’t sufficient.

Rather at an aggregated, anonymous level you need to be monitoring mental health sentiment through digital mental health platforms, and behavioural trends; which resources are your people using increasingly via your wellbeing platforms?

Dig into the data and use the insights to pinpoint where mental health preventative programmes are needed most. It’s also vitally important that businesses provide the right preventative support to their people in the early careers stage as Deloitte is doing with its early careers programmes focused on recognising and avoiding burnout.

Avoiding ‘wellbeing washing’ means avoiding sticking with the status quo. Businesses must go deeper to uncover the mental health & wellbeing needs in their workplaces, and go further to ensure the right quality support is accessible wherever and whenever it’s needed.

Kate Robinson is a doctor, founder and chief clinical officer at My Therapy Assistant