The Pitfalls of Wellbeing Washing: A call for authentic corporate health solutions


Jun 25, 2024


The significance of employee wellbeing in the workplace shows no signs of slowing down and is widely recognised as crucial. Companies across the UK are investing in wellbeing initiatives to attract and retain talent, enhance productivity, and create a positive workplace culture. However, a concerning trend known as ‘wellbeing washing’ is emerging, where organisations superficially promote and profess their commitment to employee wellbeing, while providing very little in the way of genuine health and wellbeing support. They may offer token wellness solutions – an app, lunchtime yoga sessions or an office fruit basket for example – but these do not address the fundamental health issues found amongst employees. This article explores the concept of wellbeing washing, its implications, and how businesses can genuinely support their employees’ health and wellbeing.

What is Wellbeing Washing?

Wellbeing washing occurs when companies publicise their wellbeing programmes and initiatives more for the sake of image rather than impact. It often involves promoting token gestures or minimal efforts as comprehensive solutions, thereby creating a misleading perception of commitment to employee health. The gap between the portrayal of wellbeing initiatives and their actual execution can lead to employee cynicism and mistrust.

The realities of workplace wellbeing

Despite the proliferation of wellbeing programmes, many employees feel that their companies fall short in genuinely addressing their needs. According to independent research commissioned by HCML, 55% of employers feel that wellbeing programmes are a priority for their employees, yet only 31% of employees are accessing health and wellbeing services provided by their employer. Of those employees accessing wellbeing programmes, just under 3 out of 5 rated them as positive. This disconnect highlights that many corporate wellbeing efforts​ fall short of the mark​.

Furthermore, 69% of organisations say that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agendas, however, employee absence has risen to the highest level in a decade (Health and Wellbeing at Work Report, 2023). Such discrepancies can erode trust and undermine the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes​.

The cost of ineffective wellbeing initiatives

The economic implications of poor workplace wellbeing are significant. According to recent stats, the UK incurred £138bn in workplace sickness costs over 12 months.  Presenteeism and leaveism is also costing businesses in terms of productivity, with 87% of organisations reporting presenteeism in the workplace. This has a number of negative impacts including reduced productivity, poor quality of work and low workplace morale all of which impacts the bottom line and the long-term health of employees.

Strategies for authentic wellbeing initiatives

To avoid wellbeing washing and create meaningful impact, businesses should adopt the following strategies:

    1. Understand your workforce health profile: Build up a picture of employee health – both good and bad – and identify any patterns and trends in workforce health issues to implement the most suitable wellbeing initiatives.
    2. Address underlying causes and risk factors: While many interventions focus on the health condition in isolation, for example, providing physiotherapy for musculoskeletal complaints, often there are other factors at play that are impacting on the employee’s condition. Assess and address these to support a sustained recovery and prevent future ill health.
    3. Continuous employee listening: Implement live and ongoing feedback mechanisms to understand employee sentiment and wellbeing issues as they arise. This helps bridge the gap between the boardroom and frontline staff, ensuring a clearer picture of workplace realities​ ​.
    4. Psychological safety: It’s incredibly important to create an environment where employees feel safe to voice their health and wellbeing concerns without fear of repercussions. Guaranteeing anonymity in feedback can help employees speak up about their challenges more freely​ and help reduce presenteeism and leaveism​.
    5. Training and support for managers: Equip line managers with the skills and confidence to identify and address early signs of mental health issues. According to the CIPD, a lack of line manager skills and confidence remains a top challenge in tackling employee health and wellbeing​​.
    6. Comprehensive wellbeing programmes: Move beyond superficial initiatives like meditation apps and fitness classes. Address the root causes of workplace stress and burnout by creating a holistic strategy that includes mental health support, activity and exercise, nutrition, sleep and gender-related health support​.


Offering genuine corporate health solutions means going beyond the surface. It requires a committed, strategic approach to understanding and addressing the diverse needs of employees. By avoiding the pitfalls of wellbeing washing and implementing authentic, effective wellbeing programmes, businesses can build a healthier, more productive, and engaged workforce.

Employee wellbeing is not just a ‘nice to have’ – it is a strategic imperative that can have a profound impact on the lives of employees and the success and sustainability of an organisation.