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Is Workplace Wellness Sick?

Your employees are not the problem – so why is your WW programme trying to fix them?


There’s a study on Workplace Wellness programmes getting a lot of attention recently.  The research, by Dr. William Fleming of the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre, ( ) shows that most workplace wellness programmes have little to no benefit, with the unsurprising exception of volunteering.


You can imagine how this threw the proverbial spanner in the works of the multimillion dollar Workplace wellness industry – of which I am a part. 


Now there are a few points that could be made to save the blushes of WW programmes – for example, the study included anyone who had participated in even one WW activity.  Now I don’t know about you, but I know that for me personally, it can take multiple nudges, pushes and kick in the behinds to get me to actually change my behaviour rather than do my usual  “make a list of shiny changes I’ll make some day” response.  Change can be hard – really hard.  And it can take effort, reps and pain – something modern life doesn’t seem fond of, but more of that in another article.


If you take a look online, you can find studies which support the benefits of WW programmes and studies which don’t.  A few are inserted as a box-ticking exercise to cover the organisation’s legal responsibilities for insurance purposes, but most are well intentioned and come from an increasingly human-centred approach.    Their aim is to support employees to cope with the stresses of work and life.


And herein lies the problem.  Workplace wellness programmes aim to fix, change, or at very least “support” employees, so that they can continue to work in their given role.  This is a bit like a government spending a fortune on rehabilitation programmes for prison inmates or drug users and then sending the individuals back into the neighbourhood and social system that caused their problems in the first place.  And we know how that pans out.


This is not to say that teaching people to recognise thought patterns and behaviours that cause anxiety isn’t useful.  Giving people time to reflect on their own lives and become conscious of their habits and life path is important work and a topic I am passionate about. 

We must constantly wake ourselves up to what we are doing with our precious lives and fight the natural tendency to fall sleepily into to a life lived out of habit not choice.


Thomas Jefferson put it better;

“Vigilence is the price of liberty”


But Wellness initiatives should not be used as a way to send the message –

“Heal Thyself – then get back to the same work that caused the problems”.


We need to know when the system, not the people, is the problem.


Why are we stuffing new generational values around work into old model organisations?


If a company’s culture, workload expectations, management styles, structure or work spaces are inappropriate, no amount of resilience or mental health training is going to be enough to help the people who work there.  Stress management, resilience and motivational programmes can help individuals, but they shouldn’t carry the message that the individual is the problem. 


We need to fix what’s broken.


If the workload isn’t fair – change it. (I’ll write an article on this topic soon).

Same goes for all the systems of an organisation that can be toxic, outdated or simply unsuitable.


Despite some challenging statistics regarding the efficacy of workplace wellness programmes, such interventions are here to stay.  However, with time and measurement comes the insights we need to learn the

  • For Whom,

  • What,


  • Whens

that will inform how we deliver such programmes, much like the onset of personalised medicine.


And when we find that a WW intervention isn’t working, we may need to question the unconscious assumptions and organisational philosophies that underpin it.  Let’s not fix the victim and then put them back into the broken system that caused their struggles.


Dr. Fleming’s study supports this – interventions which focus on the individual don’t achieve what they’re meant to.  We need to focus on core organisational practices instead.


The modern workplace doesn’t just need a vision board on their walls.


They need an organisational philosophy that gets them there.  They need an organisational structure that takes the words off the wall and makes it happen.


This means that we need to completely review what we are asking of employees, and what we will allow a workplace to demand of its people.


Businesses serve their owners and investors.  That’s it.  The underlying deal is that they offer a product or service in return for money and employment for their employees which in turn allows the employees to consume services and products from other businesses.  The owners and investors are themselves consumers of other services and products.  It’s a self-fuelling system which relies wholly on consumerism.


Business isn’t a thing.  It doesn’t exist without people. It IS people.  Yet somehow we have come to look at business as if its exists as an entity – a species of some sort that we must live alongside and serve.  It isn’t.  So why haven’t we demanded that business serves us and changes according to what we want it to do for society?


This is the epicentre of the Workplace Wellness efficacy conundrum.  Make the Workplace Well again and we won’t need to keep fixing the people within it.


The tension of the Work From Home – Hybrid – Return to Office debate screams for a new look at the role we want Work to have in our lives and in society.  Covid gave us all a shake down.  It was an Existential crisis that gave us that Bird’s Eye view of our lives we so seldom get.  It made us look with fresh eyes at our work and home lives and where we want the balance to be. 


Work and businesses must serve society – not the other way around.


Wellness at work will come about when we understand this.

People want

-            Meaningful work (more on this soon)


-            Reasonable workloads (on this too)



-            Socially conscious work (yep, this too)


-            Outward Facing organisations (you’re getting it)


-            A Life That Matters (Surprise! - this one needs no explanation)


-            A Medical Wellbeing Model with S.P.I.N.E. ™ (yup)



And that’s it for the moment.  But if you’d like to read more about Dismantling Disengagement through Psychology, Philosophy and Spirituality at Work, then Sign up on my Home Page and you will receive your FREE Chart “100 Ways To Win Today” and be the first to know of opportunities and special events.


Thanks for reading.  I know your time is precious.



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