Wellbeing classes in workplaces aren't enough for mental health, says study

Across offices, wellbeing has become a more openly used word.

Some workplaces will even make a big show of their wellbeing offerings, encouraging staff to use support systems such as the Employee Assistance Programme, along with offering perks such as flexible timings and increased holiday.

This is where wellbeing classes come into the picture – once a taboo, dream-like offering, they’re becoming more of a norm.

But new research suggests there are limitations to what these classes can really achieve.

Wellbeing sessions will be a welcome additional to many employees’ lives and ultimately should be part of a healthy work culture.

But the shortcoming uncovered here that while they might help some individuals with short-term office-born issues such as a stress, deeper-rooted problems will need further work.

A moment of calm, sadly, can’t cure a mental health condition or intense stress induced by work.

The research was carried out by William Fleming of the University of Cambridge using data on 26,471 employees. He found classes held for stress management, relaxation and mindfulness had ‘no effect’ on mental health.

Speaking at a British Sociological Association conference, he said these kinds of classes are a ‘convenient option’ for employers wanting to address mental health.

He added: ‘Short-term programmes or classes are not satisfactory for solving long-standing problems of worker wellbeing.’

Using stats from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, it was found that workers who took part in those wellbeing initiatives were not any better mentally than those who hadn’t.

Of all the wellbeing modes analysed, only charity volunteering improved mental health.

Surprisingly, stress management classes actually made things worse for people’s wellbeing.

Fleming said his results contradict the ‘prevailing narrative around mental health interventions in governmental policy, within HR management and public health literature.’

Ultimately, he believes these schemes are ‘not helpful’ for most people and added it wasn’t for workers to ‘persistently address their own mental health, but that of management to comprehensively consider and address the structures of work which cause harm through stress, trauma and uncertainty.’

The results show that if employees want to make a real different to the mental health of their employees, they need to be willing to invest more into long-term solutions.

If you’re cynical, you might feel the wellness revolution in offices is half-hearted and more of a tick box exercise.

It’s clear that while wellbeing sessions are well-intentioned, more needs to be done to support – especially during the time of a pandemic.

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