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No evidence mindfulness and wellbeing apps improve employee wellbeing

The study found mindfulness, relaxation classes and wellbeing apps do not improve employee wellbeing

There is no evidence that individual-level mental health interventions benefit employees, according to a study from the University of Oxford.

The study of 46,000 UK workers found mindfulness, resilience and stress management, relaxation classes and wellbeing apps did not improve employee wellbeing.

But deeper organisational changes – such as flexibility of scheduling, management practices, staff resources, performance reviews and job design – are likely to play a greater role in improving wellbeing at work.

Some interventions even showed a negative impact on measures of employee wellbeing, though this could be due to selection, where those with lower mental health levels take part in programmes but do not receive the intended boost.

Read more: Three ways to avoid 'wellbeing washing' in the workplace

Research lead William Fleming said employers should be more ambitious with their efforts to improve wellbeing.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “There’s a growing consensus that organisations have to change the workplace and not just the worker. We should focus on core working conditions and organisational practices, rather than trying to improve wellbeing in isolation. 

“Evidence says we should focus on scheduling control, responsive management, fair performance review, working time, pay, contracts, skills training and job and task redesign.”

Fleming said HR should focus on addressing the root causes of stress and poor mental health to avoid ‘wellbeing washing’.

He said: “If these initiatives are offered with the intent of appearing to try and improve wellbeing or just taking the easy route, rather than actually and sincerely trying to improve employees, then it would qualify as wellbeing washing. 

“To not fall foul of wellbeing washing, employers have to take seriously the root causes of stress or poor wellbeing, understand the jobs of their employees and recognise work and personal life conflicts.”

Kate Robinson, chief clinical officer at Lumo Health, said that while apps and classes can be part of a wider strategy, an empathetic and friendly culture is most important.

She said: “As social beings, it’s the human factors and how we interact with each other that often cause the greatest source of stress at work. Taking notice of these, treating each other with kindness and empathy enable people to feel safe, access their full potential and thrive in (and outside of) their roles.

“It is useful to offer mental health interventions such as mindfulness, relaxation and stress management apps and classes to employees as part of a broader wellbeing strategy.”  

Read more: The silent privilege of wellbeing amid the cost of living crisis