Only One Type Of Workplace Well-Being Program Actually Works

A recent study suggests workplace wellness programs don’t make that much of a difference on employee mental health, but there is an exception: volunteering.

Originally published in .

An academic study published in the Industrial Relations Journal holds a critical light on the overall effectiveness of employee well-being programs in the workforce.  

According to a report published by Forbes, the study, authored by William J. Fleming, PhD, of the University of Oxford, analyzed self-assessment responses from over 46,000 employees across 233 different organizations. By asking respondents to record their participation in 90 well-being programs, and then following up with a self-report of their well-being and life/job satisfaction, the study garnered data that suggests these programs are likely not having a major impact on employee well-being. 

Surprisingly, the data suggests that participation in most well-being initiatives, including mindfulness classes, stress management programs, and well-being apps, showed no significant improvement in employee mental health. However, there is a notable exception revealed in the study: volunteering 

Volunteering was found to promote a sense of belonging within an organization, and it also cultivates a collaborative and empathetic workplace culture that benefits individuals. This aligns with the growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility and the desire of employees to work for organizations that contribute positively to society. 

The data also suggests that employees are increasingly seeking meaningful work experiences that extend beyond the office walls. Engaging in volunteer activities is found to fulfill some of this need — leading to increased job satisfaction and mental well-being for individuals in the workforce.  

The data further suggests that while traditional well-being programs are well-intentioned, they may not address the deeper needs of employees. The workforce is evolving with hybrid work environments, and so are demands from employees.  

While this data by no means suggests organizations should eliminate well-being programs, it reveals the potential to reexamine the approach to promoting employee well-being — focusing on initiatives that foster a sense of purpose and community engagement. 

Instead of solely investing in traditional programs, there is a growing need to incorporate opportunities for more fulfilling engagement. This could involve future partnerships with charities, community projects, or company-organized volunteer days. 

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