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Workplace Stress

Employee well-being is high on the agenda for many businesses…but are they missing the mark?

All over the world and across every industry, employers are shouting about their well-being initiatives. They’re providing free fruit, exercise incentives, counselling, stress-reduction apps, meditation classes, employee assistance programmes – the list goes on, writes Sam Harvey, founder & Principal Coach of Braver Leaders – Team Performance.

Yet, teams are still stressed out, workplace absences are at an all time high, and burnout rates are through the roof. All of which suggest that these well-being programmes aren’t doing so well.

There’s also been countless reports of “well-being washing”, with employees complaining about their organisation having a lot of talk, but very little walk. And it’s only fair that people are mad, after all what’s the point of posting support for mental health awareness days if you’re not actually doing anything useful to look after your people.

There’s enough statistics showing a clear disconnect between employees and employers. Most employees feel their health worsened or stayed the same last year — with only around one-third saying their health improved. However, more than 3 in 4 C-suite leaders believe their workforce’s health improved.

So what are employers doing wrong? Here’s 5 common mistakes that mean your well-being initiative might actually be doing more harm than good.

  1. There’s still stigma around mental health and well-being

There’s no question that progress has been made when it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace; but there’s still work to be done. Still so many employees find it difficult to speak up, ask for help and share when they’re struggling.

Employers have a big part to play in breaking down the stigma, and that starts with your own workplace. You need to be focused on keeping the conversation open, creating a psychologically safe environment and building a culture where seeking help is encouraged and accepted. Everybody has emotions, faces challenges in life or sometimes just needs an extra bit of support –  make sure you are taking all the right steps to normalise that.

  1. Not having trained and supportive leadership

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping their team’s experience. They’re the ones on the front line, standing with their team day-in-day-out. They need to be equipped with the knowledge, tools and resources to not only look after themselves but also to support everyone in their team. Despite this, research found that only 42% of managers say they feel “completely” empowered and capable of helping their company achieve its well-being commitments.

Your leaders are the ones who set the tone for your teams and have the power to create a caring workplace culture, implement policies that support employee health, and provide resources for employees to access – so it’s important they’re empowered and educated to do so. 

  1. One-size-fits-all well-being strategies 

Well-being initiatives aren’t something you can just buy or copy from another organisation’s playbook. Although it might be easier, it just means you will end up with a generic strategy that doesn’t meet the particular needs and challenges of your workforce.

Initiatives need to be relevant and tailored to your people, and the best way to find out what they need is to ask them. Invite your employees into the conversation, involve them in the decision making process and actively seek their feedback. That’s how you create a wellbeing strategy that actually does what it’s supposed to and supports your team through both their professional and personal life. 

  1. Using well-being initiatives as a fix

Far too often support is offered when a person is in crisis or emergency mode. This reactive approach, as well-intentioned as it might be, often proves to be too little, too late. Imagine if this is how a broken leg or concussion was handled –  it wouldn’t make sense. Well-being, whether mental, emotional, or physical, deserves the same level of consistent attention and care.

Well-being isn’t a box you tick or something that requires a one-time solution; it’s a continuous journey that requires proactive and purposeful action. Shifting from a reactive to a proactive approach involves creating a culture where well-being is not an afterthought but a guiding principle and embedded into every part of the business.

  1. Lack of accessibility to resources and support

It’s already hard enough for people to speak up and ask for help… employers shouldn’t be making it even worse. However, 70% of managers have reported organisational barriers to supporting staff wellbeing, such as company policies (e.g., rigid scheduling requirements), a heavy workload, an unsupportive workplace culture, and not being equipped with the right skills.

Employees shouldn’t have to navigate through a maze of policies and red tape or face judgement for reaching out; resources and support should be readily and easily available. The more seamless and accessible the process, the more likely individuals are to seek help when they need it; or even better, get the help they need before things snowball into a bigger issue. 

Sam Harvey is founder & Principal Coach of Braver Leaders – Team Performance