An Oxford study has found that most workplace wellness programs have negligible benefits for employee well-being. The research, done on over 46,000 British workers, discovered that except for charity work and volunteering, other wellness offerings like mindfulness and sleep improvement initiatives fail to significantly enhance workers’ mental well-being. [Source]
The study published on January 10 in the Industrial Relations Journal was conducted by William Fleming, a fellow at Oxford University’s Wellbeing Research Center. Fleming analyzed data from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace surveys of 2017 and 2018, encompassing responses from employees at 233 different organizations.
Fleming meticulously compared the survey responses of employees participating in wellness programs with those who did not, focusing on their mental well-being at specific moments.
Despite the popularity of various individual-level mental well-being interventions, Fleming’s findings challenge their effectiveness. “The findings pose a challenge to the popularity and legitimacy of individual-level mental well-being interventions like mindfulness, resilience and stress management, relaxation classes and well-being apps,” Fleming stated.
In an interview with the New York Times, Fleming expressed awareness of the controversial nature of his findings. He suggested that companies might need to look beyond wellness programs to improve employee well-being.
“If you’re seriously trying to drive employees’ well-being, then it has to be about working practices,” Fleming advised, indicating a shift towards improving fundamental aspects like work schedules, pay, and performance reviews.
However, Fleming’s research has not gone unchallenged. Adam Chekroud, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University and co-founder of Spring Health, pointed out limitations in Fleming’s study. Chekroud’s 2022 study on Spring Health, involving 1,132 U.S. workers, indicated an improvement in mental health metrics among participants.
“There is recent and highly credible data that things like mental health programs do improve all those metrics that he mentions,” Chekroud argued in his dialogue with the Times.
Supporting Fleming’s conclusions, Dr. David Crepaz-Keay from the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom noted the robustness of the study. He highlighted its significance over previous research that backed the efficacy of employee assistance programs.
Crepaz-Keay’s experience in advising organizations like the World Health Organization and Public Health England on mental health initiatives adds weight to his endorsement of Fleming’s findings.