Mental Health 101

Wellbeing washing: What it is and how to avoid it

Naomi Lucking


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Over the last decade, the topic of mental health has slowly but surely oame out of the shadows. In 2021, Google searches for mental health reached their highest number ever. 

Companies are catching on. They know that people care about wellbeing at work, and they want us to know they know. 

So they join in on mental health awareness days. They post lots of smiley photos of their staff on social media. They buy a bean bag and a ping pong table for the office. 

Job done, right? 


This isn’t a wellbeing strategy. It’s wellbeing washing. 

What is wellbeing washing?

Like greenwashing, wellbeing washing is when a company focuses more on appearing to care about wellbeing than they do on actually taking care of their employees. 

A recent study by Claro Wellbeing found that more than a third of employers are wellbeing washing.

Figure 1: Stats from Claro Wellbeing showing the gap between words and actions.

While 7 in 10 workplaces celebrate mental health awareness days, only 3 in 10 offer mental health support deemed "good" by their employees. While stats like this make it easy to be cynical about a company's intentions, wellbeing washing isn't necessarily deliberate.

A study by McKinsey Health Institute found a big disconnect in leaders' perceptions of employee wellbeing compared to the employees themselves. Many employers simply don't know that their people are unhappy.

Employers rate the mental health and wellbeing of their employees 22% more favourably than employees themselves.

Why companies need a proper wellbeing strategy

Almost two-thirds (65%) of HR decision-makers say employee expectations for wellbeing support have increased in the last year. It’s unsurprising that over half (51%) feel ESG reporting is a priority in 2023. 

These days, everyone’s talking about ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and how companies are becoming more accountable for their wider impact on the world. Employees expect wellbeing support, and top talent are looking for it when they look for jobs. Employee wellbeing is no longer a nice to have – it’s a must have. 

And this isn’t just a question of morals – a proper wellbeing strategy makes good business sense too. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that $1 trillion dollars is lost to mental ill-health globally each year. But recent studies from the University of Oxford and the University of Warwick have shown that happy employees are more productive. Investing in wellbeing reduces staff turnover, burnout and stress. All in one go.

Clearly it matters now more than ever that leaders are proactive on employee wellbeing – and not just on social media. 

How to get it right

Be honest. You don’t have to be perfect on the inside to talk about wellbeing on the outside (spoiler: no company is perfect anyway). 

Talk about your aspirations. If you’re not there yet, how do you plan to get there? People will appreciate your honesty – especially your employees. 

Measure wellbeing. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. If you want to deliver an effective workplace wellbeing strategy, you’ll need meaningful insights. Anything else is just guesswork. 

67% of HR decision-makers said that measuring employee wellbeing is a priority for their business in 2023.

Listen to your employees. Don’t fall into the trap of guessing what people want. Sure, the beanbag and ping pong table might be fun at first, but they’re unlikely to have a long term impact. 

Gather feedback and act on it. Ask your people what would make a difference to their wellbeing and make sure they can share their thoughts anonymously. Propose solutions to their problems and get feedback on your solutions before you implement them, too.

Invest in cultural change. Wellbeing isn’t a perk. A free gym membership will do nothing for someone who’s too exhausted to exercise. You’ve got to create a company culture that really cares about wellbeing, right at the top. 

"A culture of workplace wellbeing needs to be built and embodied by an organisation’s leaders, otherwise it often becomes all talk and no action." Melanie Cochrane, CEO/Group Managing Director A/NZ, Equifax

The bad news is that there is no shortcut to good workplace wellbeing. It’ll take time, money and effort. The good news is it’ll be the best investment you ever make. 

Be sure to avoid wellbeing washing when you're planning your ESG agenda and read our 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends report.