Many wellbeing perks waste of money: research

Australian Psychological Society

Australian Financial Review

Employers who are serious about improving the wellbeing of staff must tackle the root causes of stress instead of relying on “easy actions” such as offering free access to health apps and mindfulness workshops.

That is the key takeaway from a new study from the University of Oxford, which delivered a scathing assessment of wellbeing programs aimed at changing individual workers, rather than improving their workplace.

Based on survey data from 46,336 workers across 233 organisations in the UK, the study found that relaxation practices, time management and coaching delivered no improvement in average employee wellbeing.

And resilience and stress management training was even associated with a negative effect on wellbeing.

The only “individual-level wellbeing intervention” associated with a positive effect was access to volunteering opportunities.

But study author William Fleming said the results for resilience and stress management and volunteering were likely explained by the fact that stressed-out workers were drawn to the former, and happier workers were drawn to the latter.

“The key takeaway is that easy actions that only seek change in individual employees won’t have any meaningful impact for employees or for the business,” Dr Fleming, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre, told The Australian Financial Review.

“Employers have to be more ambitious and get to the root causes of stress, and enhance how work is undertaken.”

Dr Fleming said changes at the organisational level, including to management practices, staff resources, performance reviews and the design of jobs, had a far greater influence on employee wellbeing.

His findings did not surprise Dr Zena Burgess, an organisational psychologist and the chief executive of the Australian Psychological Society. “It really is the way the organisation operates, and the system-wide interventions, that have the most impact,” she said.

Smaller organisations did better on employee wellbeing than their larger counterparts because they were less bureaucratic and typically had higher levels of freedom and trust, she added.

According to employee experience platform Culture Amp, the top three reasons why people stick with their employer are: when they feel informed about what’s happening at their company; they have control over their wellbeing; and they believe there are career opportunities in the business.

/Public Release. View in full here.