Wellness washing- What is it and is your organisation doing it?
Wellness washing, also known as “greenwashing” or “health washing,” refers to the practice of making false or misleading claims about the health benefits of a product or service in order to appeal to consumers’ growing interest in wellness and healthy living. In the United Kingdom, wellness washing has become a growing concern as more and more companies look to capitalize on the trend by making false or misleading claims about their products or services.
One example of wellness washing in the UK is the use of the term “natural” on food and beauty products. Many companies use the term “natural” to describe their products, even though they contain synthetic ingredients or chemicals. This can be misleading to consumers who may believe they are purchasing a product that is healthier or more environmentally friendly than it actually is.
It is also important to note that wellness washing is not only limited to physical products, but also to services and even concepts, such as the use of “wellness” or “mindfulness” in workplace culture, for example, without providing the means to achieve or measure them.
In the workplace, wellness washing refers to companies making false or misleading claims about the health and wellness benefits of their workplace culture or practices, without providing the necessary support or resources to actually make it happen. Some examples of wellness washing in workplace culture include:
· Offering yoga classes or meditation sessions, but not providing the necessary time or space for employees to participate in them.
· Promoting a “work-life balance” culture, but not actually offering flexible hours or remote work options
· Using the term “wellness” or “mindfulness” in company culture, but not providing any training or resources to employees on how to practice wellness or mindfulness at work.
· Encouraging physical activity, but not providing the necessary equipment or facilities for employees to stay active during the workday.
· Promoting the importance of mental health, but not providing any mental health support or resources for employees.
· Using the term “Eco-friendly” or “Sustainable” but not providing any evidence of how the company is actually reducing its environmental impact.
It’s important to note that these examples are not necessarily bad in themselves, and can be beneficial for employees, but it’s important that companies deliver on the promise of promoting wellness and provide the necessary support and resources to make it happen.
Wellness washing can have a number of negative impacts on employees, as it can lead to a lack of trust and credibility in the company and its leadership. Some of the potential impacts on employees include:
1. Frustration and disappointment: Employees may feel frustrated and disappointed if the company makes promises about wellness and work-life balance but does not follow through or provide the necessary resources and support. This can lead to a lack of motivation and engagement among employees.
2. Increased stress and burnout: If a company promotes wellness and work-life balance but does not provide the necessary resources and support, employees may feel more stressed and burnt out as they try to balance their work and personal lives.
3. Decreased trust and credibility: If a company makes false or misleading claims about its wellness culture, employees may lose trust and credibility in the company and its leadership. This can lead to a lack of engagement and commitment among employees.
4. Negative impact on mental and physical health: If a company promotes the importance of mental and physical health but does not provide the necessary resources and support, employees may experience negative impacts on their mental and physical health.
5. Decreased employee retention: If a company does not follow through on its promises about wellness, employees may begin to look for other job opportunities where their health and well-being are more prioritized.
We need to understand that wellness washing is a relatively new concept and companies can get it wrong very easily. Here are a few suggestions that could raise company awareness.
· Provide bandwidth: The first step in preventing wellness washing is to provide employees with relevant bandwidth to consume those wellbeing initiatives.
· Think strategically: When investing in a wellbeing initiative or program think about the roll out, the time commitments, the support required and the organisation structure that is required to make it happen. Understand how this is going to help employees wellbeing and how it is going to address your performance challenges. Have some key metrics that you could track on an ongoing basis.
· Understand employee’s needs: People are different and their wellbeing needs are different. Without gaining an understanding of individual wellbeing challenges investing in wellbeing programs and initiatives is a colossal waste of time, effort and money. Companies should be able to obtain this information anonymously from employees and then build it as part of their wellbeing investment strategy. A simple solution would be to anonymously collect information from employees using survey monkey and act on it. If companies are working with a mental health first aider or wellbeing champion, they can seek their help to collect information. Alternately, companies can use a platform like KAYA which allows them to not only collect the information but also helps them track the effectiveness of those initiatives over a period of time.
To conclude, it’s important for companies to be transparent and honest about their wellness culture and provide the necessary resources and support to ensure employees have access to the tools and resources they need to maintain their well-being. By doing so, companies can foster a culture of trust and engagement among employees, and promote the well-being of their workforce.